The group would have fit in well at any American anti-war protest, with their Greens and hippies, anarchists and Trotskyites, and not Stalinists—rest assured. There was a former Soviet political prisoner and the usual assemblage of poorly dressed, greying radicals. But unlike the American and European Left of today, there were no Putin supporters. For Putin was at that time starting to jail his rivals, assassinate his critics, close their papers, and make genuine freedom of speech all but impossible. And they knew their leader better, as a conservative nationalist, who had already engaged in massive war crimes.
It was 2007, and they were protesting the war in Chechnya. The demonstrators were putting their lives on the line, because Putin had not simply put down a rebellion in Chechnya but rather obliterated the Chechen capital of Grozny, which the UN would later describe as the most destroyed city on earth, in a carpet-bombing campaign of genocidal proportions, much like his current campaign in Aleppo. And unlike so much of the American Left today, the demonstrators took the lives of his victims seriously, and they recognized the imperial ambitions implicit in their leader’s actions.