On Feb. 23, Razil Malikov, a tank driver in the Russian Army, called his family and said he would be home soon; his unit’s military drills in Crimea were just about wrapping up.
The next morning, Russia invaded Ukraine, and Mr. Malikov hasn’t been heard from since. On Monday, Ukraine published a video of a captured soldier in his unit, apologizing for taking part in the invasion.
“He had no idea they could send him to Ukraine,” Mr. Malikov’s brother, Rashid Allaberganov, said in a phone interview from the south-central Russian region of Bashkortostan. “Everyone is in a state of shock.”
The reality of war is dawning across Russia.
On Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry for the first time announced a death toll for Russian servicemen in the conflict. While casualty figures in wartime are notoriously unreliable — and Ukraine has put the total of Russian dead in the thousands — the 498 Moscow acknowledged in the seven days of fighting is the largest in any of its military operations since the war in Chechnya, which marked the beginning of President Vladimir V. Putin’s tenure in 1999.
Russians who long avoided engaging with politics are now realizing that their country is fighting a deadly conflict, even as the Kremlin gets ever more aggressive in trying to shape the narrative. Its slow-motion crackdown on freedoms has become a whirlwind of repression of late, as the last vestiges of a free press faced extinction. [Continue reading…]