Russian opposition leaders have called on the population to hit the streets for a mass anti-war protest on March 6. Jailed anti-corruption activist and opposition politician Alexei Navalny has also called for daily protests across the country at 7pm.
In its first acknowledgement of significant casualties, Russia's defence ministry announced that 498 Russian troops had been killed and 1,597 injured on March 3.
Ukraine has claimed its forces have killed more than 5,300 Russian troops, a number that military experts say is clearly a large exaggeration. Neither figures have been independently verified, nor are there any independent sources on the ground to offer alternative estimates.
Exiled opposition figure and former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky threw his weight behind the calls in an interview with France24 on March 3.
“I fully support this initiative,” said Khodovkovsky, who spent a decade in a Russian jail after he clashed with President Vladimir Putin and was arrested on tax fraud charges. “The people need to make it plain they are against this war.”
In a message smuggled out of his jail cell where he is serving a 2.8-year sentence for embezzlement, Navalny went further, calling on people to protest every day at 7pm, depicting President Vladimir Putin as an "obviously insane tsar."
"We cannot wait even a day longer. Wherever you are. In Russia, Belarus or on the other side of the planet. Go out onto the main square of your city every weekday at 19.00 and at 14.00 at weekends and on holidays," he said in a statement published on Twitter by his spokesperson.
Navalny said Russia wanted to be a nation of peace but few people would call it that now.
"Let’s at least not become a nation of frightened silent people. Of cowards who pretend not to notice the aggressive war against Ukraine unleashed by our obviously insane tsar," he said as cited by Reuters.
"I am from the USSR. I was born there. And the main phrase from there – from my childhood – was 'fight for peace'. I call on everyone to come out on to the streets and fight for peace... Putin is not Russia."
Putin’s war against Ukraine is clearly very unpopular with the population. On the same day as the attack on Ukraine on February 24 tens of thousands turned out for spontaneous protests in some 50 cities across the country. Police quickly moved in and over 1,700 people were arrested.
The authorities have tightened the screws of repression in an effort to prevent protests by ordinary Russians from gathering momentum. Social media applications like Twitter, Telegram and Instagram have been slowed down, blocking especially their ability to share videos. Leading liberal media outlets Ekho Moscow and TV Dozhd that were objectively reporting on the war in Ukraine have also been closed.
Russian state media has been reporting on the fighting but has full concentrated on the battles around Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where the state claims it is trying to “protect Russian citizens” there. None of the rocket attacks on the rest of the country or the tension situation in Kyiv have been reported by the Russian state media.