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Russian court sentences sociologist to five years for criticizing war

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RIGA, Latvia — A Russian military court on Tuesday sentenced Boris Kagarlitsky, a prominent sociologist, to five years in prison for criticizing the war in Ukraine — a shocking turnabout after another court originally ordered Kagarlitsky to pay a $6,500 fine but no prison time.

The brutally toughened sentence was issued after an appeal from prosecutors, Russian state media reported, and it reflected a continuing harsh crackdown on the few dissident voices remaining in Russia after the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Kagarlitsky is the editor in chief of the Marxist online publication Rabkor and a university professor who has been designated as foreign agent, a label Russian authorities have attached to many of those who have criticized the war.

The previous court ruling, in mid-December, found Kagarlitsky guilty of “justifying terrorism” for an online post about a 2022 attack on the Crimean Bridge, but levied only the fine as punishment. In many instances, defendants found guilty of criticizing the war now receive longer prison terms than those convicted of crimes such as rape or assault.

Prosecutors quickly appealed the verdict, arguing that it was “unjust due to its excessive leniency.”

In the post that led to his arrest, Kagarlitsky said that the Crimean Bridge holds special symbolic meaning for “Putin’s era” and the “meaning” of Ukraine’s attack on it “from a military point of view is more or less clear” as it had disrupted Russian supplies to the southern part of the front line.

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On Tuesday, in a post on Telegram, Kagarlitsky said that he was “in a great mood as always” after the new sentence was issued, and that he plans to continue collecting materials for new books, “including descriptions of prison life.”

“Anyway, see you soon. I’m sure everything will be very good,” he wrote. “We just need to live a little longer and survive this dark period for our country.”

Others, however, said the sentence was excessive — even in the highly repressive atmosphere that now characterizes Russia.

“This verdict is a blatant abuse of vague anti-terrorism legislation, weaponized to suppress dissent and punish a government critic,” said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s director for Russia. “By targeting Boris Kagarlitsky, a distinguished sociologist known for his critical stance against government policies, the Russian authorities are showing, once again, their relentless assault on all forms of dissent.”

Moscow has cast a wide net against those who oppose the war in Ukraine. And on Tuesday, the Russian authorities sought to expand their reach, by adding Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas to a wanted list.

Kallas appeared on a register of people wanted in connection with criminal charges, although the entry did not specify what charges she is facing.

The spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, later explained that Kallas must answer for “crimes against the memory of the liberators of the world from Nazism and fascism,” adding: “This is just the beginning.”

“Russia’s move is nothing surprising,” Kallas said in a post on X. “The Kremlin now hopes this move will help to silence me and others — but it won’t. The opposite. I will continue my strong support to Ukraine. I will continue to stand for increasing Europe’s defense.”

Kallas has been an unwavering supporter of Ukraine and has often called for more military assistance to Kyiv and tougher sanctions against Moscow. She has also advocated for the removal of monuments to Soviet World War II soldiers in Estonia. Russia considers the desecration or destruction of war memorials a crime under legislation that outlawed the “rehabilitation of Nazism.”

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Last fall, Kallas came under public pressure after Estonian public broadcaster ERR reported that her husband had remained a shareholder in a transportation company that was still operating in Russia after the invasion.

Kallas dismissed the reports as “a witch-hunt” by her political opponents, adding that her spouse is not a public figure and she cannot be held accountable for his business activities.

Her husband, Arvo Hallik, said he sold his stake and resigned from the company. In November, Kallas was reelected to lead her party and has continued to push other European countries to sustain aid to Ukraine.

Russian forces have recently made confirmed advances south of Kreminna in the Luhansk region and around Avdiivka in the Donetsk region, according to the Washington-based think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

Both sides have been locked in a war of attrition for months, with Russian President Vladimir Putin betting on wearing out Ukraine and exhausting Western support two years into the war. In the West, there are mounting concerns about Ukraine running short of soldiers, and about depleted stocks of air defense ammunition.

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