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Russian critic who urged talks with Ukraine doesn’t fear arrest

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MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian politician who made waves by questioning Russia’s strategy in Ukraine on national television said Tuesday he was telling the truth and not afraid of being punished under tough laws against discrediting soldiers and spreading false news about the conflict.

The remarks by Boris Nadezhdin, a former liberal member of the national parliament, came as Russian forces retreated from much of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region in the face of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

During a talk show on the state-controlled NTV channel on Sunday, Nadezhdin said President Vladimir Putin had been misled by the intelligence services who had apparently told him the Ukrainian resistance would be brief and ineffective. Nadezhdin also called for an end to fighting and the start of negotiations.

In recent weeks, Russian officials have repeatedly accused Ukraine of not wanting to negotiate, but they have also offered draconian terms. Former President Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday that Russia would demand full surrender in order to negotiate.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Nadezhdin said negotiations on a ceasefire “are always and everywhere possible.” But he said resolving issues such as the status of eastern breakaway regions and Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, would be much more difficult.

“Negotiations on these issues? They are now absolutely unrealistic, because there is a position like this: ‘We will defeat you, no, we will defeat you,’” he said.

Nadezhdin’s televised comments were notable because of Russia’s moves to stifle criticism of sending troops to Ukraine. A few days after the start of the operation, parliament approved a law prohibiting the alleged disparagement of the Russian military or the dissemination of “false information” about the operation in Ukraine.

OVD-Info, a legal aid group that tracks political arrests in Russia, has counted 90 criminal cases for spreading false information about the Russian military since February 24.

“I definitely didn’t break any Russian laws,” Nadezhdin told the AP. “There was not a single falsehood at all, not a single falsehood in what I said. There was a statement of absolutely obvious facts.”

The withdrawal of troops from the Kharkiv region and Ukraine’s counter-offensive in Russian-held parts of the southern Kherson region have raised fears that Russia is hesitating in what officials insist on calling a “special military operation”. “.

The leader of the Communist Party, the country’s second political formation, called on Tuesday both for a general mobilization to strengthen the military and for the conflict to be openly qualified as war.

“War and a special operation are fundamentally different. You can stop the special operation, you can’t stop the war, even if you want to,” Gennady Zyuganov was quoted as saying by Russian media.

“Maximum mobilization of forces and resources is necessary.” he said.

Mild criticisms of Putin are also emerging.

Last week, seven members of a local council in St. Petersburg called on the national parliament to bring treason charges against Putin over the conflict in Ukraine; five of them were accused of having discredited the army.

Last week, a local council in Moscow passed a resolution calling on Putin to step down, saying: “The rhetoric you and your subordinates are using has long been tainted with intolerance and aggression, which has finally plunged our country back into the crisis. Cold War era. Russia has begun to be feared and hated again.