Russian councillor says she's not afraid after anti-war speech

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  • Nina Belyayeva made anti-war speech at council session
  • Fellow councillors want her investigated for extremism
  • She said she wanted to make a public stance

LONDON, March 28 (Reuters) - A local councillor in southern Russia who criticised Moscow's invasion of Ukraine as amounting to a war crime has said she felt an obligation to speak up and was prepared for the consequences.

Russian officials have denied committing war crimes and say their forces in Ukraine have not targeted civilians.

The Semiluksky district council in Voronezh, about 500 kms (310 miles) south of Moscow, has asked law enforcement to investigate Nina Belyayeva for extremism after she made the comments at a meeting on March 22.

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"I'm not afraid," Belyayeva, a lawyer and devout Christian told Reuters in an interview. "The very least that I wanted to do was to say that I am against what’s going on."

Belyayeva's decision to speak out was unusual. Many Russians appear to back the war while others keep their opinions to themselves.

Public criticism of the war carries risks. Thousands of Russians who took part in protests have been detained over the past month, and a state TV producer who interrupted a live news bulletin holding up an anti-war sign has been fined. read more

Reuters sent requests for comment about Belyayeva's case to the Kremlin and to the investigative committee for Voronezh region, which investigates serious crimes. Neither replied.

SPEAKING OUT

At the March 22 session of the Semiluksky council, Belyayeva took the floor and said she opposed President Vladimir Putin's decision to invade Ukraine.

"I consider what is happening there to be a war crime," she can be heard saying in a mobile phone video of the session that was posted later on social media.

Other council members interrupted her, with one asking: "What's going on in your head?" and another saying: "And what about our soldiers who are giving their lives?" One councillor accused her of encouraging Russian soldiers to surrender, an allegation she denied.

Raising her voice to make herself heard, Belyayeva said the Kremlin's justification for the invasion was false. "There is not a single piece of evidence that Ukraine was preparing to attack Russia. None. None. None," she said.

Afterwards, the council adopted a resolution, seen by Reuters, asking law enforcement to investigate whether Belyayeva had committed a crime by violating laws on extremist behaviour. Belyayeva said that as of Friday night, she had not been charged with any offence.

Belyayeva said since the footage of the council session spread on social media, she had received some negative comments, but mostly messages of support.

"For many the fact that I spoke out has also had an impact: 'You see, I'm not alone. Nina Belyayeva believes that, too.' That was my aim."

On Feb. 24, Russia began what it calls a "special military operation" to demilitarise and "denazify" Ukraine. Ukraine and its Western allies have called that a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.

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Reporting by Reuters, Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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