"Hands off Syria", Mikhail Fedorchenko had written on his poster before he left for the Turkish embassy in St. Petersburg. The troops of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had just crossed the Syrian border and the Kremlin had a cautious understanding of this invasion. Fedorchenko therefore addressed his message in English to three presidents: Turkey, the USA and Russia.
The 25-year-old protested alone, it does not need permission from the authorities. "For me it was an absolutely harmless action," says Fedorchenko today. "When I talked to a journalist, police suddenly came up to me and said they got a complaint and I should come along." The police knew that the arrest was illegal, and let the young Russian leave after four hours without a log. "There was a mistake," was the reasoning.
Fedorchenko is one of the few Russians who publicly oppose their country's involvement in the war in Syria. Not only because protests in Russia quickly lead to conflicts with security agencies. "Large parts of the opposition are too much concerned with the internal problems," believes the Petersburg. "Who cares about Syria if you have political prisoners and electoral fraud at home?" In recent years, there have been no major demonstrations against Russia's Syrian campaign either in Moscow or in other cities. The opposition's last attempt to hold a major peace rally in Moscow was in 2016 - and it failed because the city government had not approved the planned location for the demo. At the same time they only wanted to demand that Russia's military mission be directed against terrorists alone.
Great lack of information
Fittingly, Vladimir Putin has stylized himself into a peacemaker these days, after sealing the fate of northern Syria with Erdoğan. Kremlin-friendly experts and state media celebrate the Russian president as a skilful strategist who prevented major bloodshed and almost decided the Syria war in the interests of the Kremlin. The Russian Air Force itself has been bombarding hospitals and neighborhoods for years to break resistance to the Assad regime. Russia's political leadership has always stood firmly by the side of the Syrian dictator, despite all the atrocities, including the use of chemical weapons.
But all this hardly comes in Russian society, for various reasons. "The humanitarian situation in Syria has had very few independent social and political organizations in Russia on the agenda for years," says Ekaterina Sokirjanskaja, head of the Moscow Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention, which specializes in armed conflict with Russian participation. The focus was more on those fighters who traveled from Russia to Syria to fight either on the side of the Islamists or as mercenaries on the side of the Russian-Syrian alliance. Also, most organizations simply lack the money to fully monitor the situation in Syria, "just to pay for local translators". At the same time, there is a huge lack of information, because of all the parties to the conflict a lot of propaganda, says Sokirjanskaja. In the Russian media is almost only reported by victories. As a result, there is little demand from the bottom for more involvement with Syria.