February 28, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 9796

Russian Opposition To The Ukraine War: The Expected And The Unexpected

February 28, 2022
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 9796


It came as no surprise that liberal Russian politicians such as Leonid Gozman, of the Union of Rightist Forces, would strongly oppose the war and mock the failed predictions of the Russian leadership. A greater surprise has been the position a trio of Duma deputies representing the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), who voiced their opposition to the war. It was the Communist Party that took the lead in pushing for recognition of the breakaway regions in Ukraine. Its leader, Gennady Zyuganov has employed rhetoric indistinguishable from that of Vladimir Putin with regards to Kiev, and has staunchly supported the war. The Communist Party from the time of Lenin established the principle of "democratic-centralism" within its ranks, according to which, decisions taken by the top leadership are binding upon all party members. Yet, Oleg Smolin and Mikhail Matveev now joined by Vyacheslav Marhaev have not faced the usual party discipline.

Marhaev wrote recently: “To my great regret, the entire campaign to recognize the DPR and LPR had a completely different intention and plan, which was initially hidden, and as a result, we ended up in a state of war between the two states. We did not have enough restraint or political will to try, after recognizing the republics of the DPR and LPR, to continue to regain our positions by peaceful means."[1]

Markhaev added "I condemn any radical nationalist movement, I do not accept genocide, devastation and lawlessness. But in the same way, I hate war and the military solution of issues. I say this not as an outside observer or politician, but as a direct participant in similar, very recent, events in Russian history. It is very painful to lose colleagues, colleagues, colleagues, ordinary young and promising fellows. It is very painful to look into the eyes of their parents, children and loved ones."[2]

Some believe that the trio of CPRF Duma deputies are acting on their own beliefs, another theory is that the CPRF is playing a double game. Via Zyuganov and the party majority the CPRF appeals to the patriotic electorate. By tolerating the deputies opposed to the war, the party maintains its ties with the generally liberal protest voters, who see the CPRF as the only alternative to Putin on the ballot box, but would otherwise be repelled by Zyuganov's rhetoric. As the conservative electorate is declining, the party cannot afford to lose the protest voters.

Below is Leonid Gozman's condemnation of the Ukraine war followed by an analysis that appeared in Nezavisimaya Gazeta on the apparent split in the Communist Party.

CPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov (Source:

Leonid Gozman: 'Is It Clear That A Motivated Army And A Nation In Arms Are More Effective Than People Who Do Not Want To Fight And Do Not Understand At All What They Are Fighting For'

Leonid Gozman pronounced the war a failure whatever the eventual outcome. He wrote:

"1. The plan obviously failed. There are no triumphant bulletins, there are no photographs of “Ukrainians surrendering en masse” (Volodin), there are no civilians greeting the liberators with flowers. There are no enthusiastic crowds in Russian cities, there is no "People's Government" modeled on the Soviet-Finnish war.

"On the other hand, we do have the hysteria of the Supreme Commander, exhorting the Ukrainian military to carry out a coup, as well as thousands of victims and hundreds of prisoners from our side - the Ukrainians are ready to hand over the living. And the bodies of those killed to the Red Cross. And the disgusting lie of our Department of Defense that there are no casualties - none at all! They are, in their own way, sincere - soldiers are not people for them.

"2. What will happen in the coming days and hours, can only be predicted by military experts, and even that is most unlikely. Is it clear that a motivated army and a nation in arms are more effective than people who do not want to fight and do not understand at all what they are fighting for?

"But even if Ukraine is captured for some time, the goal of turning it into a vassal of Russia will not be achieved - it will remain an occupied territory until it is freed.

"3. Our bosses, obviously, did not expect such a heroic resistance of the Ukrainians, nor such a consolidated world reaction. They do not have a plan for this case, but there are chaotic actions dictated by malice, poor education and very low intelligence.

"4. As yet, no one has seriously assessed the scale of the coming crisis. I believe it can lead to the disappearance of Russia as a coherent entity. Unfortunately, this will happen through violence and blood.

"5. The end of the “lost reign” of Nicholas I is being repeated - there as well we had parades, complacency and contempt for neighbors. And the Crimean [War] defeat came as a logical outcome.

"6. If the Ukrainians hold out for at least a few more days, this could be a mortal blow to the regime of Vladimir Putin - not only the people but the topmost thousand will not forgive him for such a clear demonstration of weakness and inadequacy.

"7. As long as Vladimir Putin is in power, there will be no peace. His resignation is a necessary condition for preventing the war with Ukraine from morphing into the Third World War."[3]

Leonid Gozman (Source:

Oleg Smolin 'A Military Invasion Is Overkill, There Was No Need For It'

Nezavisimaya Gazeta analyzed the split in the Communist Duma faction:

"Counter to the party line, Communist deputies at various levels, are in favor of peace between Russia and Ukraine. The dissidents include, for example, Oleg Smolin and Mikhail Matveev from the State Duma. Their speeches are in conflict with the tough statements issued by Communist Party of the Russian Federation's leader, Gennady Zyuganov, who supports the Russian special operation, although he has already begun to shift attention from foreign policy to domestic problems. Experts do not rule out the possibility that the public anti-war position is an attempt to keep the left in touch with the general protest electorate.

"The principle of democratic centralism did not stop critics of the general line of the Communist Party. The same Matveev distinguished himself with the following statement: 'In voting for the recognition of the DPR / LPR, I voted for peace, not for war. For Russia to become a shield, so that Donbass would not be bombed, and not in favor of Kyiv being bombed.'

"He stated that hostilities must cease forthwith. Smolin, as an experienced deputy, addressed the issue on broader terms: 'A military invasion is overkill, there was no need for it. Relations between Russians and Ukrainians have been destroyed for many years.' Later, he spoke in more detail: 'Firstly, as a Russian intellectual, I am convinced that military force should be used in politics only as a last resort. I feel sorry for [the loss of] human lives - both our own and those of others. Moreover, for half of my own life we ​​lived in a single country. Secondly, it is not obvious whether it is possible to achieve the goal of a demilitarized Ukraine via a military operation. And if now by some means an agreement on the neutral status of Ukraine is concluded, there is absolutely no guarantee that after some time has passed its new government will not terminate this agreement. Thirdly, it is unknown how many years, or more likely decades, will pass until friendly relations between our peoples are restored. Fourthly, economic sanctions will certainly hit not only the Russian-London oligarchs. Ordinary citizens will also have problems, and this too for at least a few years. In his opinion, if the current actions of Russia in Ukraine do not achieve the preset goals, then the people's payment for this decision will prove excessive.'

Oleg Smolin (Source:

Recall that in recent days, Zyuganov has repeatedly stated that 'the people of Ukraine should not be a victim of world capital and oligarchic clans', that the special operation is justified: 'The steps taken are aimed at guaranteeing peace in Donbas and protecting Russia from ever more acute threats on the part of the United States and NATO.' And another routine phrase by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation's leader – 'the party proceeds from the need to dismantle the results of many years of Ukraine's Banderization [Stepan Bandera led the Ukrainian Insurgent Army that fought alongside the Nazis against the Soviet Union] ', he also, following the President of the Russian Federation [Putin], speaks of 'demilitarization and de-Nazification of Ukraine.'

When Zyuganov was asked about the appearance of internal dissidents, in particular, Smolin and Matveev, he explained that they supposedly did not fully understand the situation. But he himself is already shifting the emphasis towards domestic politics, moreover, such a goal became the headline of his new statement of February 26. Zyuganov, on the one hand, again supported the Kremlin's foreign policy, but also noted cautiously: 'The Communist Party of the Russian Federation is convinced that the matter of defending Russia's national interests must go beyond diplomatic and military-political measures. An increasingly urgent need for major changes in our country's life is brewing. The question of Russia's historical survival of Russia becomes a decisive turn by the authorities towards protecting the interests of the broad popular masses. Doing so requires making the proverbial “left turn”, but for the time being, [it entails] confirming “the preservation and strengthening of local self-government, the rejection of forced vaccination and the electronic concentration camp, the cessation of political repression against Communists and other representatives of left-wing patriotic forces.' In general, it means fulfilling the key requirements of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and its left allies.

"But the latter actually go for the pacifist position, popular among "disgruntled citizens", or, in other words, among the general protest electorate. This became clear from the messages of the Moscow City Duma deputy from the Communist Party Oleg Stupin about the meeting of the left and trade union organizations, which eventually ended with an anti-war resolution open for universal signing. The actions by Stupin and a number of other red activists look like an assault upon the main political construct of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation - the same left-wing patriotic bloc. So it is not entirely clear how the party leadership will behave towards its dissidents.

"Georgy Kamnev, a member of the Central Committee Presidium, explained to NG: 'Indeed, we have democratic centralism and the general line expressed by the leader of the party is binding. However, the same Smolin is not a member of the Communist Party, and therefore no sanctions can be applied to him. But with Matveev and others, there will probably be some kind of internal conversation with the party leadership. Perhaps they will explain their position. If a deputy is elected with the support of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and agrees with its position, then it is wrong to agree and support only those decisions that are convenient, and renounce those that are inconvenient. He noted that, perhaps, these cases will be brought up for discussion by the Presidium of the Central Committee, but there is no date yet. However, it is possible that the situation is manageable without it - the deputies will personally give explanations to the party's leader, or clarify their public position. However, their exclusion from the party or the deprivation of mandates is not on the agenda of the Central Committee', Kamnev told NG.

"It cannot be ruled out that this is actually a subtle game by part of the party leadership. It is known that the electoral core of the left has decreased in recent years, but the support of the party itself in the elections has seriously increased thanks to the so-called general protest and, on the whole, to the quite liberal voter. It is this part of society that now favors peace with Ukraine. And it turns out that with its militaristic rhetoric, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation repels a large part of its supporters, which threatens to leave the reservation. The activity of opponents of the Ukrainian special operation within the Communist Party of the Russian Federation gives the party a chance to maintain some kind of ties with the 'new dissenters'.

"Aleksey Mukhin, general director of the Center for Political Information, told NG that there are two possible discernible scenarios in what is occurring. The first is that these are genuine initiatives by individual deputies, but then they attest to weak party discipline. But the second option is internal movement within the party itself: 'Perhaps this is a game aimed at increasing the support of the general protest electorate. Because this part of the voters does not approve of the military special operation. That is why the Communist Party, as in that joke, is trying to be both smart and beautiful. That is, it is trying to play on the feelings of both the patriotic electorate and the liberal one, namely, to take all possible votes from the right and the left.'

The head of the Political Expert Group, Konstantin Kalachev, explained to NG: 'Most likely, this is really the personal position of individual deputies. Now there are disagreements even within some families, not like in parties. People act out of their moral, ethical considerations with pacifist statements. "'However, it is this position of theirs that will open up a corridor of future opportunities for the party future. Because now, due to its position, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation is losing popularity with the largest group of voters - the general protest.' The expert noted that the nuclear electorate of the left is mainly in favor of the special operation, but the majority of their voters are still in favor of peace - and here the position of the dissident deputies will allow the party to appeal in the elections to different groups of the population. 'It is clear that without the general protest part of the electorate, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation is doomed to failure, and dissidents will just become assembly points for such voters. And the fact that nothing has happened to the dissidents, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation does not exclude them and has not even condemned such a position, has not created a commission to analyze the situation, says one thing: the leadership understands everything perfectly and allows internal democracy and pluralism of opinions,' Kalachev noted."[4] 


[1], February 27, 2022.

[2], February 27, 2022.

[3], February 27, 2022.

[4], February 27, 2022.

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