3 weeks ago, shortly after Russia expanded its invasion of Ukraine, I wondered how Russians would react. And I wondered if they could react, given how bad repression is getting. I wondered what would happen if a citizen was to go out with a sign reading "I am not protesting against anything."
It turns out I was quite naive, as others have now proven. While Vladimir Putin never declared war on free speech, his war against it has reached such a terrifying point that Russians can no longer hold a blank, letter-sized sheet of paper in public. No need for the sheet to be blue and yellow to be arrested.
In 2014, Vladimir Putin did not declare war on Ukraine when he "secretly" invaded it. Nor did he declare war in 2022, when he launched his "special military operation".
It turns out Putin has been skilfully exploiting democracy's worst flaws to weaken his opponents for a long time, with grave effects in the last decade. While our media focus on covering refugees and dead children, Putin has managed to legalize theft without even getting democracy's attention, discretely adding yet another colossal weapon to his arsenal for future wars. Putin knows better than to trigger a conventional war against NATO. Putin prefers to target democracy's weakest, corrupting or manipulating them with just enough discretion to avoid full-scale war.
Unfortunately, if Putin will not declare war on democracy, democracy still has to stop pretending there is no conflict. Putin's undeclared war against Ukraine may be our last occasion to acknowledge his war against democracy. And finally react accordingly.