Ambassador: There are many in Russia who wish to help refugees

Margus Laidre.
Margus Laidre. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Estonian Ambassador in Moscow Margus Laidre told the "Terevisioon" morning show in an interview that many people in Russia want to help refugees from Ukraine.

"There really are a lot of Ukrainians in Russia, while no one knows the exact number since many are staying with relatives and acquaintances. I have been in touch with an assistance committee. The refugee camp they've organized has some 38,000 people," Laidre said.

The ambassador said that half of them want to return to Ukraine, while half would gladly stay in Russia. "It is an even greater paradox that people who have escaped talk of atrocities the Ukrainians have committed and that they have witnessed. Asked how they witnessed these atrocities, they say they saw them on Russian state television's Channel One," Laidre said.

"At the same time, there is no animosity towards Ukrainians among the Russian people. Rather, there is the desire to help Ukrainians. The committee tells me they get around 100 people every day whose contributions range from a few apples to 1.5 tons of cereals. People want to help."

Laidre also pointed to a recent poll by the Levada Center according to which support for the war is down in Russia. "If in August, 48 percent of people questioned wanted the war to continue, this had fallen to 36 percent in October. We're seeing a decline. Also as concerns peace talks that are sought by 57 percent of people, up from 44 percent before," the diplomat said.

"It is another paradox in this context that support for the Russian army's activities in Ukraine has grown from 68 percent in March to 73 percent today," he added.

Laidre also remarked that dissatisfaction with President Vladimir Putin is mounting. "Recent weeks' meetings with opposition or liberal politicians suggest that pressure from far right groups is mounting for Putin," he said.

The ambassador explained that the war constitutes major financial gain for Russian men living in poverty.

"We tend to look at Russia as a single whole. However, economically speaking, we could talk of four different Russias. The most developed part concentrated in around ten major cities covers just 18 percent of the population. Reality is very different for the remaining Russians."

"And as put by a Russian politician yesterday, the vast majority of Russians are living in extreme poverty. The average person makes 17,000 rubles or €271 a month. In a situation where people are promised €3,000 for joining the war and compensation for their family should they fall, it constitutes major change in their lives, especially if there is no work to be found where they live," he added.

But Laidre also said that the mobilization and Russian soldiers who have died in Ukraine have made people worry and brought the war home to them.

"The mobilization is one factor that has changed the population's attitude toward the war. If it used to be like a TV series you could watch until you had your fill and then change the channel then now it is like you're sitting in the theater in the middle of the play and cannot leave. The war has definitely become more real," Laidre remarked.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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