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ABC’s James Longman on Russia Bringing Back the Iron Curtain

Photo courtesy ABC News

Reporting from Moscow, Longman sees ominous signs ahead, particularly for LGBTQ+ individuals.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin presses hard on his invasion of Ukraine, the world is almost collectively turning against him, and that might be fine with Putin, who may be in the process of pulling down the Iron Curtain back down again and isolating his citizens.

In an emergency session Wednesday, the United Nations voted overwhelmingly for a resolution condemning Russia and calling for the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine. The vote was a lopsided 141 for to five against, with 35 countries abstaining. No surprise that Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, and Syria joined Russia in voting against it.

The U.N. vote was the latest in a series of resolutions, sanctions, business moves, and no-fly zones designed to further isolate Russia. The Russian stock market has tanked, the Russian ruble dropped to its lowest value ever (less than a penny), and sanctions on its central bank caused it to withdraw from the European market.

It can be difficult to determine what's really happening in the country because of Russia's crackdown on its state-run media as well as the constant flow of lies spills out from its government.

For some clarity and an honest appraisal, I reached out via Zoom to the out ABC News foriegn correspondent James Longman, who has been covering Russia's premeditated and horrific assault on Ukraine. Longman is on the ground in Moscow, literally working almost around the clock.

I asked Longman about what life is like in Moscow right now. Does he feel that the Russian population is coming to grips with what's happening?

"There is a significant minority that is aware of what is really going on, however, ever so slowly, more Russians are beginning to become aware of the fact that there is a war," he said. "Even though it is 2022, remarkably people can still be cut off from the truth and that's what's happening here."

Longman pointed out that the Russian people have been prepped for years to believe what the government tells them: "Putin has remained in power because he feeds the Russian people a steady diet of propaganda about the rest of the world."

"Right now Putin is telling them that there are terrorists in eastern Ukraine," he continued. "That they are Nazis and they are committing genocide and are killing Ukrainians and the Russian military is rescuing them. The majority of Russians trust him; however, some are now beginning to come to terms with the fact that the country is at war."

The media outlets that don't toe the Putin line and report his party's lies are being shut down by the government, Longman said.

"I have friends in the Russian who are fleeing the country because they are afraid for their lives," he went on. "They believe Putin is a threat and are selling or mortgaging their homes and escaping."

That terror comes from the effect of all the sanctions that are being levied against the country, according to Longman, as well as possible martial law that is also being considered by the Parliament.

"Those who are coming to terms with the truth, and what is really going on are starting to realize that their lives are going to abruptly change, and not for the better," he noted. Prices are already soaring here because of the sanctions. For example, a Mac Pro a few weeks ago went for about $800 and now is being sold for about $10,000."

Longman added that these Russians are ordinary people who go to work, go shopping, eat at restaurants, and are living a normal 21st-century life. "That's going to quickly disappear," he said.

However, the sanctions might not be the worst that's ahead. "The Parliament is considering a type of martial law in the country," Longman projected. "And if it passes and likely will, anyone who protests, disagrees with the government, or aids someone with a dissenting opinion will be charged with a form of treason and sent to prison for 15-20 years."

And Longman said that, in a sense, journalists are already being singled out: "What's also disconcerting is that for the first time ever, our crews are being followed, and for the first time we were stopped and questioned by Russia's equivalent to the Secret Service."

Longman was also alarmed by how quickly protests have been shut down in Moscow. "They've made it virtually impossible to protest," he said. "In fact, they were arresting people who were just stopped on the sidewalk watching the protesters. They have shut down all public squares and other places where protesters were gathering."

While Longman's social media accounts are still working, albeit very slowly and with some delays, if the martial law is passed there's an added fear that the government will cut off internet access. "With this crisis, Putin will do absolutely anything he can to keep himself in power."

And what's ahead looks to be very ominous. Putin is in the process of shutting down and isolating the country, Longman said. "He is bringing back the Iron Curtain and trying to revive the former Soviet Union. The country might be isolated to a degree that it never has before, and that does not bode well at all for the Russian people."

I asked Longman what shutting the country off might mean for LGBTQ+ individuals who are already in danger and suffering in Russia. "I think every single minority will be under enormous threat," he warned. "Because if the rules and laws of the former Soviet Union are reinstated, it will send a message to people that anyone who is not a pure Russian is an impurity, and anyone not a Russian is a danger to the country and a pariah."

"It allows people to single out those with impurities as unacceptable," he continued. "The Russian Empire always directed their anger to the outside world, particularly to the West, and queer people are considered a Western import. Returning a Soviet empire will embolden so-called pure Russians to threaten, intimidate and assault anyone who is queer. What's ahead for the Russian people could be absolutely terrifying, not only to them, but also for the rest of the world."

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