Shortly after Russia shocked the world by attacking Ukraine on February 24, Ilya V. Yashin, a Moscow local councilor and prominent opposition figure, decided it was time to see a dentist. .
The Kremlin was criminalizing criticism of the war, and Mr. Yashin, a very outspoken critic, had decided to stay in his home country and continue to oppose President Vladimir V. Putin. Eventually, he reasoned, a prison sentence was very likely.
“Honestly, I’m terrified of dentists,” Mr. Yashin said in a recent YouTube interview, “but I pulled myself together and did it because I realized that if I ended up in jail, it there would be no dentists there.”
Two weeks after the interview was published, Mr. Yashin, 39, was indeed arrested. He is currently in pre-trial detention in Moscow, accused of “spreading false information” about the war. He faces a sentence of up to 10 years.
Mr Yashin’s arrest highlights the rapidly narrowing channels of dissent in Russia as Mr Putin suppresses any divergence from the official narrative of the invasion. Beyond that, it has rekindled the debate within the Russian opposition about how best figures like Mr. Yashin can serve the cause of Mr. Putin’s weakening: outside the country that they want to reform, or inside a penal colony?
Mr. Yashin remains convinced that he made the right choice. “What crime have I committed? he asked rhetorically in a handwritten letter from prison to the New York Times. “On my YouTube channel, I criticized the special military operation in Ukraine and openly called what is happening a war.”
But some opposition figures disagree, saying staying and fighting may seem brave, but jail is an ineffective platform to push through reforms.
“Yashin is fearless – he’s a fighter, he’s brave,” said Dmitry G. Gudkov, a Russian opposition leader who left Russia last year. “I’m sure he won’t back down,” he continued. “But I’m just sad that he’s wasting his life. It’s not understandable.