Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered an unsettling warning to any Russians who might be supportive of the United States and other Western countries.
"Any people, and particularly the Russian people, will always be able to tell apart the patriots from the scum and traitors and spit them out like a fly that accidentally flew into their mouths," Putin said during a televised address on Wednesday. "I am convinced that this natural and necessary self-cleansing of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, cohesion, and readiness to meet any challenge."
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, anti-war protesters have been demonstrating in the streets, leading to thousands of arrests. Earlier this week, Marina Ovsyannikova, a producer at the state-run Channel One television station, held up an anti-war sign during a news broadcast.
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Putin mentioned in his speech the sanctions imposed on Russia by Western countries, and said these "steps are aimed at worsening the lives of millions of people." Despite foreign countries withdrawing their business from Russia and Moscow's stock market remaining closed, Putin said having to deal with the repercussions is worth it because "the struggle we are waging is a struggle for our sovereignty, for the future of our country and our children." Russia's military actions in Ukraine, he declared, "fully justified themselves."
Putin's speech was "in part, an informal and indirect sanctioning of mass repression," Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of the political analysis firm R. Politik, told The New York Times. She said the Russian president was making it clear to law enforcement authorities that "all spheres of society that show any sympathy to the Western way of life" should be targeted, and that "was scary — very scary."
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