Russian authorities descend on hipster bars to thwart dissent

A young woman graffitied the pro-war Z logo on the door of Moscow's Underdog bar
A young woman graffitied the pro-war Z logo on the door of Moscow's Underdog bar

The Russian authorities are raiding hipster bars in St Petersburg and Moscow over fears anti-war individuals are meeting up there to share dissenting views.

The 20 bars in central St Petersburg that were raided were all located near the grand 19th-century Kazan Cathedral, renowned for its nightlife.

Photos posted by the news website showed red and white police tape plastered across the bars’ padlocked doors.

The FSB said that it had opened investigations into the bars for “anti-social acts", excessive drinking and drug-taking, although the US-based Institute for the Study of War said that this was a cover “to crack down against internal dissent among Russian social circles”.

The raids in St Petersburg followed a swoop last week by riot police on the Underdog and La Virgen bars in central Moscow for “supporting the armed services of Ukraine”.

Around 40 people were detained in the raids on the Moscow bars. They were taken to police stations where police inspected their social media channels and tattoos for hints of pro-Ukraine sentiment.

A video posted on a Telegram channel linked to the Russian security services showed riot police in the Underdog bar carrying truncheons and dressed in body armour and helmets. They laughed and swayed as they watched five handcuffed young Russians sing the national anthem and pro-war pop songs.

Another photo showed a Russian riot police officer standing over a young woman as she graffitied the pro-war Z logo on the door of the Underdog bar.

Spreading fear

The video and photos may have been deliberately released to spread fear, a strategy often used by the Russian security services, which has previously leaked details of violent arrests of dissidents.

A lawyer for detained bargoers said that police had electrocuted them with prods.

The owners of bars said that the staff were now too “demoralised and scared” to reopen.

“We apologise to everyone for the events of these days, including all law enforcement officers who had to participate in these events because of us and whose time we have wasted,” they said in a statement.

The Kremlin has taken a zero-tolerance approach to people opposed to its invasion of Ukraine, banning dissent and encouraging people to inform on friends and neighbours, if they overhear any anti-war sentiments.

Hundreds of thousands of Russians who oppose the Kremlin's war in Ukraine have already fled abroad but other young Russians who can’t afford to leave or who have work, family or study commitments have stayed in Russia.