Russian President Vladimir Putin said that traitors to Russia would be spit out “like gnats” while speaking to government ministers on Wednesday about his war on Ukraine, Reuters reported.
Thousands of Russians have been arrested for protesting against the country’s invasion. Putin suggested that getting rid of defectors would “strengthen” the country, calling it a “cleansing.”
“I am convinced that this natural and necessary self-cleansing of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, cohesion and readiness to meet any challenge,” Putin said, according to Reuters.
Earlier this month, Putin signed legislation that penalized people for spreading “fake news” about what he calls a military operation, while many news outlets have halted their operations or adjusted protocols to protect their journalists.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Kremlin, told Reuters that people who leave their jobs or the country over the invasion were traitors.
“They are vanishing from our lives themselves. Some people are leaving their posts, some are leaving their active work life, some leave the country and move to other countries. That is how this cleansing happens,” Peskov told the news outlet.
Russia began its invasion three weeks ago, sparking international condemnation and the exodus of millions of people from Ukraine.