The New Year Brings Greater Censorship and Repression in Russia

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 2

“You what, want it to be like North Korea?”(Source: The Moscow Times)

In December 2023, independent journalists and human rights activists prepared a prognosis of what awaits Russia in the near future. According to participants in the “Network Freedoms” project, Russian citizens should expect total censorship on the Internet. The Russian authorities will begin to recognize popular public pages on social networks as “extremist” and will introduce penalties for subscribing to those channels. The mention of “undesirable organizations” and “foreign agents” will also face penalties (Н, December 7, 2023). According to human rights activists, in place of YouTube and Telegram, the country will introduce an analogue of the Chinese service WeChat, and access to the network will be possible only with a Russian passport and special visa. The state will monitor all user activity on the Internet. Repression against Russian citizens who have left the country will only increase. For those wishing to leave, exit visas may be introduced, as was the case in the Soviet Union (Н, December 7, 2023). These predictions reflect the Kremlin’s increased paranoia of widespread instability at home as Russian forces continue to suffer heavy losses in Ukraine and domestic discontent is growing.

Much of what these commentators predicted has begun to occur in Russia. This past summer, Moscow started to amend the law “On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection.” The measure bans the dissemination of information about ways to bypass government blocks, and sites on which such information appears may be blocked (, August 14, 2023; Government of Russia, November 14, 2023). Recently, government officials began discussing options for tightening the circulation of SIM cards. In particular, some proposals called for Russian operators to activate SIM cards only after checking the subscribers’ passport data with the Ministry of Internal Affairs (, November 23, 2023).

Other official measures taken at the end of last year highlight the Kremlin’s plan to increase repression at home. The number of political prisoners is growing rapidly, now comprising nearly 3,000 people (, November 13). Independent journalists note that the Russian Ministry of Justice and Roskomnadzor are issuing significant fines to “foreign agents” and manufacturing criminal charges against them. According to current Russian laws, three administrative violations are sufficient to charge a person criminally “for failure to fulfill the duties of a foreign agent” (Roskomnadzor, July 14, 2022;, December 5, 2023). The first criminal case on these grounds was initiated against the editor of the Tatar-Bashkir service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Alsu Kurmasheva, after her arrest in October (ВВС–Russian service, October 19, 2023; (, December 5, 2023). The Responsibility for Aiding Foreign Agents in Violation of the Law Act was introduced this past summer. The law criminalizes any action or inaction (conscious or unconscious) that enables a “foreign agent” to violate the restrictions imposed upon them (, August 4, 2023). Additionally, beginning December 11, those Russian citizens prohibited from leaving the country are required to surrender their passports. The new measure also applies to conscripts (Official Publication of Legal Acts of the Russian Federation, November 22, 2023;, December 11, 2023).

Some Russian officials have increasingly turned to threats against those citizens who already left the country. For example, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin continues to threaten Russians who have left the country and supposedly “want victory for the Kyiv regime” that “Magadan” awaits them upon return—that is, exile to a labor colony (, October 10, 2023). Volodin has also voiced his support for the confiscation of the property of “those who have left discrediting the country” (Izvestiya, February 6, 2023).

Other semi-official sources continue to feign that all is well at home and that the Russian population is consolidating around the war effort. The Telegram channel “Nezygar” (Незыгарь), connected to the Russian government, joyously reports that “the potential for the consolidation of Russian society based on the special military operation (SVO) and opposition to the collective West has not been exhausted.”

Such declarations ring false due to the apparent apolitical stance of most Russians. Pro-Kremlin analysts draw this conclusion from the latest Levada Center survey data, in which 40 percent of Russians have had to collect money or items for SVO participants and their families over the past 12 months (, December 11, 2023). Commentators loyal to the Kremlin have remained silent on the development that, according to the same survey, the number of Russians favoring peaceful negotiations in November increased once again: 57 percent of respondents support peace talks, while 36 percent favor continuing the war. The share of those opposed to ending the war, even if Vladimir Putin himself decides to end it, decreased to 19 percent (, December 8, 2023).

The usual conformism of Russians and the desire to reflect the image of a “respectable citizen” may explain this combination of seemingly contradictory indicators. “Help SVO participants” has become a societal standard, a unique marker of loyalty to the state. Senators and other officials demand such behavior, and all state media publish reports on assistance to the military (, October 1, 2023; RIA Novosti, December 13, 2023). Some propagandists have even created a special Telegram channel, “Dobro-Inform,” that reports on “how Russians assist SVO troops” (, November 3, 2023;, accessed January 9).

Fear of becoming an “unreliable” citizen or even outright traitor dictates the necessity that most Russians prove their loyalty to Moscow. Such conduct makes it possible for the Russian people to create the illusion that they, too, can influence the situation at the front, move closer to victory, and avoid the consequences of defeat, as occurs in the case of denunciation (see EDM, May 3, 2023).

Even Russian sociologists loyal to the Kremlin indirectly recognize the motives for suppressing public anxieties. When citing data on “strong support for Putin in future elections,” some admit that this can partially be explained by the tense domestic situation stemming from the heightened anxiety of the Russian people to prove they are “proud of their community” (, December 8).

Most Russian citizens will try to demonstrate their loyalty to Moscow in the new year. Even if the predictions come true and domestic repressions grow, many will likely adhere to the new restrictions for fear of retribution in opposing the Putin regime. The possibility of protests depends in large part on how religious and other radical elements can lobby for norms that grossly interfere in the lives of ordinary Russians, such as the ban on abortion or censorship of entertainment content (Meduza, December 4,10, 2023). Social stability will likely be further disrupted in 2024 and may lead to more widespread discontent, especially if the Kremlin dares to declare a new wave of mobilization.