Petition against Putin: ‘Resignation would be a peaceful way out’

·4-min read
© Mikhail Klimentyev, AFP

A petition calling for Russian President Vladimir Putin to resign has been circulating in Russia since Monday, with dozens of local politicians risking prison sentences to sign it. FRANCE 24 spoke to Ksenia Torstrem, a municipal deputy for the St. Petersburg district and one of the leading petitioners demanding Putin’s resignation.

The petition, signed initially by 19 local Russian elected officials and published on Monday, contains a brief text that condemns Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and demands that he step down.

"We, the municipal deputies of Russia, believe that the actions of President Vladimir Putin are harming the future of the country and its citizens. We demand the resignation of Vladimir Putin from the post of president of the Russian Federation," states the petition, which has been circulated widely on social networks and been picked up by several media outlets.

It is a striking show of opposition in a country where the Kremlin’s harsh crackdown on dissent has meant Putin is rarely denigrated publicly. Since the start of the conflict, those who criticise the president risk jail time due to a law that criminalises the publication of “fake news” on the Ukraine invasion.

However the conflict in Ukraine – or the "special military operation", as Moscow calls it – is not going as planned for the Kremlin. Amid Moscow’s setbacks and Ukraine’s counter-offensive successes, there is mounting criticism among those in Russia opposed to the war.

Despite the risks of speaking out, another 84 signatures have been added to the petition since its publication, though Torstrem is still confirming the numbers.

Before the launch of the petition, several elected officials from a district of St. Petersburg – Putin's hometown – had gone even further by sending a letter to the Duma on September 7, demanding that the president not only be removed from office but also tried for "treason”.

FRANCE 24 spoke to Ksenia Torstrem, a municipal councillor from St. Petersburg and one of the leading voices behind the September 12 petition calling for Putin's resignation.

FRANCE 24: Why did you choose to launch a petition against Vladimir Putin at this time?

Ksenia Torstrem: We wanted to express our support for our friends from Smolninskoye (the St. Petersburg district whose elected officials called for Vladimir Putin to be tried for treason).

We admire their courage and can only regret the trouble they are now having with the police, who accuse them of discrediting the armed forces.

Local elected officials consulted each other to find out what we could do to express our solidarity. And in the current context it is not easy, without risking trouble with the authorities.

So we thought that a petition was the safest way. It is not against the law to sign a petition in Russia.

Isn't a petition calling on Putin to resign dangerous in itself?

There is nothing that prohibits it. But then, you never know what to expect from the government at the moment. That's why I was chosen as a spokesperson for the petitioners, because I left Russia for Finland at the start of the conflict. I’m risking less than other colleagues who have chosen to stay.

But it is clear that even signing such a petition is frightening. When we started circulating the text on Telegram to ask other elected officials to sign, there were a number who admitted that they were afraid to do so, especially because they have children. Others refused because they felt that there was no point in taking such a risk for a petition that they felt would have no impact.

What is your objective, do you really think that Putin could decide to resign?

Why not? To resign would be a way for Vladimir Putin to leave power peacefully.

And such a petition is important, also, in the midst of the current propaganda. Everything is done to make people believe that there is no criticism of the government’s policies. In fact, there are millions of Russians who do not agree [with Putin], and such a petition signals to them that they are not alone.

Perhaps there are also some people in the elite who would like to launch impeachment proceedings against Vladimir Putin. We also want to show them that they have support at the local level.

Do you think that with more than 60 signatures, your petition is a success?

It is not bad. Of course, if you compare it with other petitions that, at the beginning of the fighting, had gathered many more signatures opposing the conflict, it may seem low.

However, we have received signatures from local politicians from all over the country – from St. Petersburg, Moscow, Irkutsk and Vladivostok.

The text of your petition is very short and does not go into detail about the grievances against Vladimir Putin. What do you accuse him of?

I don't really know ... I'm not sure I can answer this question without getting into trouble.

But I have been opposing Vladimir Putin for a long time, and I have been denouncing the corruption in the country. Our petition is also about supporting the authors of the letter calling for Vladimir Putin to stand trial. And they have stated the reasons for their actions... *

*The petition levies four main accusations at Putin, namely that the invasion has resulted in: the unnecessary destruction of Russian combat units; the deaths of young Russian citizens, who could have otherwise contributed to economic development; economic instability; Ukraine now being better equipped militarily than ever after receiving modern arms from NATO, despite one of Russia’s stated goals being the “demilitarisation” of Ukraine.

This article has been translated from the original in French.