Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Why Putin can survive this war

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The year 2022, an “anushorribilis” for all of Central Europe, is finally coming to an end, but the problems that have arisen during this year are far from being resolved , and the hopes it has raised seem even more distant than before.

One of them, I would say, is the prospect of politics in Russia that many believed could result from the war in Ukraine as it turns sour for the Kremlin.

In the first month of the war, when the Russian armies ground to a halt outside Kyiv and the Western powers had introduced unprecedented sanctions that caused a sharp devaluation of the ruble and almost complete economic isolation of Russia, the prevailing belief was that President Putin was about to lose his powers . Ten months later he is still in charge , as most of his opponents have fled Russia, and the country’s economy is much better than it seemed half a year ago.

Although few analysts today try to predict future events in the Kremlin, Putin may be here to stay . There are three potential forces that can challenge the Russian president. The first, and strongest, are the Western powers that sided with Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression.

But it appears they are in for a showdown that could diminish Russia’s military capabilities, not a humiliating defeat for Putin. The best result of the war, as has been mentioned dozens of times, would be the liberation of the Ukrainian lands and the restoration of its territorial integrity . No one foresees the disappearance of Putin and the decomposition of Russia. In both Europe and the United States, the leaders of the free worldthey fear the lack of centralized control in Russia as was feared during the last years of the Soviet Union, in which then President Gorbachev was supported. Of course, the option of killing the ruler of a nuclear power or deposing him by any other means is not even within the realm of reflection. So the West, which even refrains from supplying Ukraine with weapons that could hit Russia’s critical facilities, is not as big of a threat to Putin as one might think.The second, and most obvious, could be the Russian opposition ., but it is not only weak, but it is becoming less and less attractive to people for various reasons. On the one hand, feuds between anti-Putin activists are on the rise as most of their leaders move to Europe and face an uncertain future. The recent story of the “Dozhd” (The Rain) television channel, accused by the Latvian government of breaking the country’s media rules and forced to leave Riga, highlighted how divided the Russian émigré community is. . On the one hand, the most radical anti-Putin forces either side with the Ukrainians and openly call for a joint fight against the Kremlin, or they advocate dividing Russia into parts and thus for the majority of the Russians are dealing with traitors and Western agents.

The third force, and quite influential, could be the Russian business communitythat for years it has been orchestrating political changes and possesses vast resources and levers that could be used. But the sanctions policies introduced by the West have left the “oligarchs” without their assets abroad and pushed them back to Russia, where they are completely dependent on foreign aid. Russia, where they are completely dependent on Putin’s will and are expected to refrain from committing “misdeeds.” Business in general has become extremely vulnerable in the country as well, and I would not bet on their revolt against the regime. It is curious, but the possession of goods than in any other country makes them freer, but now it makes them even more dependent on the authorities.

What needs to be mentioned in recent weeks is that Kremlin officials began to describe the war that Russia is waging as a war not against Ukraine, but against the entire NATO alliance . At the same time propaganda is exploiting people’s fears that Russia may be occupied, its leaders may end up in The Hague, etc. I would say that the authorities are overestimating the difficulties of Putin’s expansionist project. In my opinion, this can be done while looking for an excuse for a possible defeat on the Ukrainian front , and it might be a good strategy, since being defeated by a great power alliance doesn’t seem to make you a loser (by the way , the same has happened in the past).

The same thing happened toSaddam Hussein in 1991 when he was defeated by an international coalition. His country was partially de-sovereignized, but he remained in power for another twelve years. Observers who believe that in Russia the defeat of a ruler causes the collapse of his regime seem to be unaware of other opposing cases. The most telling would be 1905, when the Russian Empire suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Japan that sparked a nationwide uprising, but in the end the story resulted in partial reforms while Nicholas II’s power remained unchallenged.

Therefore, I would say that the hope of Putin’s demise as a result of the Ukrainian victory seems very premature. The Russian people may be quite unhappy about the war (although even here I should mention that no less than half of them are proud of what their army is doing in the Ukraine), but that doesn’t mean they hate Putin any more than they hate Putin. “decadent West”. Russian businessmen and bureaucracy may complain about the current regime, but no one wants to face yet another reprivatization or cleansing campaign.

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