Thousands of people have been arrested in Russia for protesting against the invasion of Ukraine. Even political elites and oligarchs have spoken out against Moscow's military operations. However, in the case of the latter, this move might be due to fear of losing their privileges in Europe after the imposition of sanctions.
Despite the voices - both civilian and political - that have opposed the war, there is an important circle close to President Vladimir Putin that supports his decisions against Ukraine, the so-called 'siloviki'.
First, there are the military leaders, those who coordinate attacks against Ukrainian targets and play a key role in strategic decision-making. This includes Sergei Shoigu, Russia's defence minister, and Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces.
Both recently met with Putin during the operation in Ukraine. In fact, during that meeting, the Russian leader decided to put deterrence forces, including nuclear weapons, on "alert" in response to Western sanctions, which Putin considered "illegal".
Both Shoigu and Gerasimov responded to Putin's decision with a resounding "yes". The defence minister defended the aim of the "special military operation" in Ukraine. According to Shoigu, the invasion is aimed at "protecting the Russian Federation from the military threat posed by Western countries".
He also assured that the offensive would continue until "the established objectives are achieved". So far, the Russian authorities have reported the deaths of 498 Russian servicemen during the invasion, while more than 1,500 were wounded. Shoigu's spokesman announced that the families of the dead would receive compensation and all necessary assistance. Earlier, the minister oversaw joint operations in Belarus with his Belarusian counterpart.
Shoigu, who has a Ukrainian mother and Tuvan origin, an ethnic Turkic Siberian, came to Moscow during the break-up of the Soviet Union and became minister for emergency situations. In 2012 Putin promoted him to defence minister, despite his lack of defence experience.
As Dmitry Gorenburg, a Russian political analyst, points out to Fox News, Shoigu is one of the few people to hold a high-level post since the collapse of the USSR. "If you look at who was serving as a minister in 1999 and is still around, there are only two names: one is Shoigu, the other is Putin," Gorenburg says. In addition to being a minister, Shoigu is a figure close to Putin. The two have hunted together on several occasions and he has even been tipped as a possible successor. The Russian minister has played a key role in the annexation of Crimea and Russian military missions in Syria.
Gerasimov was also another man close to the president who played a key role in the Crimean campaign. The Kazan-born general gained experience in this field during the second Chechen war. Within Russian military circles he is considered "a thoughtful leader", "a good organiser", "a true patriot". Even Shoigu has described him as "a military man to the core". By contrast, Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian politics, describes Gerasimov in the BBC as a 'tough bully'.
"The West needs this figure (Alexei Navalny) to destabilise the situation in Russia, to promote social unrest, strikes and new Maidans." These words were uttered by Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia's Security Council. However, this was not Patrushev's first controversial statement. In 2015 he told the Russian newspaper Kommersant that "the United States would prefer that Russia did not exist as a country at all".
The current head of the Security Council, who hails from St. Petersburg, is one of the president's most loyal figures. Like Putin, he worked for the KGB during the communist era and later headed the successor organisation, the FBS, from 1999 to 2008.
Patrushev has been considered an 'unofficial delegate' of the Kremlin in the Balkans and the mastermind of the 2016 coup attempt in Montenegro. At the time, two former Russian spies were accused of organising the coup, although Moscow denied their involvement.
The other two 'siloviki' within intelligence and security are Alexander Bortnikov and Sergei Naryshkin. Bortnikov became head of the FBS after Patrushev's departure. In recent years he has intensified "tight control over Russian life and has been responsible for tens of thousands of arrests and a drastic tightening of restrictions on civil society", as Diana Magnay, Moscow correspondent for Sky News, explains.
Patrushev was one of the figures sanctioned by the West in March 2021 for his involvement in the Navalny case. Washington even pointed to the FBS as responsible for the poisoning of the Russian opposition figure.
Tatiana Stanovaya, a Russian political analyst, tells Sky News that Patrushev is likely to deliver "every day reports to Putin about hostile American influence or Western influence inside Russia, and how Western secret services are trying to undermine political stability".
Sergei Naryshkin, head of the foreign service, SVR, concludes this intelligence trident. Naryshkin also heads the Russian Historical Society, so, according to Andrei Soldatov, a Russian journalist and security services expert, the head of the SVR "has proved to be very important in providing the president with ideological foundations for his actions", as he explains to the BBC. Putin has, on several occasions, appealed to Russia's historical past when referring to Ukraine. He even went so far as to claim that the country was created by Lenin.
During the Security Council meeting to recognise the independence of the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, Naryshkin had a rather uncomfortable episode with Putin. As the president pressed him for a statement on the decision, Naryshkin's nervousness grew. "Speak clearly!", "Speak clearly, Sergei!", shouted Putin. "Yes, I support the proposal to recognise its independence," Naryshkin finally declared.
Within Putin's political circle, Anton Vaino, the president's chief of staff, is worth mentioning. Vaino is regarded as a key figure in Putin's decision-making. For this reason, the politician is included in the list of those sanctioned by the European Union.
Former Russian President and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is another of Putin's close associates. The current deputy chairman of the Security Council has spoken out on several occasions since tensions with the West increased due to the deployment of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border. Following the imposition of sanctions, Medvedev stressed that this was "a fantastic reason for a final review of relations with all the countries that have imposed them". "Russia really does not need diplomatic ties with the West", he remarked.
On the diplomatic front, the work of Sergei Lavrov, foreign minister since 2004, is more than significant. During the crisis with the West, the head of Russian diplomacy has played his role with firmness and sarcasm. After a meeting with his British counterpart, Liz Truss, Lavrov went so far as to say that the meeting was like a conversation between a "deaf man and a mute".
Finally, the role of Yori Kovalchuk, an oligarch who has come to be described as Putin's "banker", is noteworthy. Despite holding no political office, Kovalchuk maintains a strong influence over the president.
A few people control power, call the shots and push a whole country to war. They even silence nationals who raise their voices to condemn the violence and brutality in Ukraine. More than 8,000 Russian citizens have been arrested for protesting against their government's ongoing offensive on Ukraine.
Still, people continue to take to the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg to show their rejection of the Kremlin and to demonstrate to the rest of the world that a large part of the Russian people do not defend Putin's actions.
"I want to apologise to the Ukrainians. We did not vote for those who triggered the war," laments Tatyana Usmanova, a Russian activist. "We, the Russian people, are against the war that Putin has unleashed. We do not support this war, it is not being waged in our name," stresses Marina Litvinovich, another activist.
"I am against the war. I was born in 1941 and I know what it means," Valeria Andreyeva told Al Jazeera. Even Elena Osipova, one of the few survivors of the Nazi siege of Leningrad, has decided to come out to protest against the war in Ukraine with several banners. However, like other people and even children, Osipova was detained by the police.