President Putin often attempts to compare himself with previous iconic Russian figures such as Peter the Great and Ivan III. However, his year-long conflict in Ukraine has not successfully gained the desired territories, resulting in the sense of trepidation among the Russian people that he is driving the nation into a time of turmoil and inertia – or worse.
Those among the upper echelon posit that Putin needs a successful military feat to guarantee his place in power. “In Russia, loyalty does not exist,” declared a Russian tycoon who spoke to Washington Post anonymously.
Beginning with a feeling of superiority and a desire to rearrange international relations, Putin launched a major incursion into Ukraine. Although the Russian leader encountered multiple military defeats, which hurt his standing internationally and brought brutality charges against his forces, he still increased his dictatorial control domestically. He has taken advantage of the war to drown out any opposition and construct an insular and suspicious society that is antagonistic to liberals, trendsetters, LGBTQ individuals, and chiefly, Western-style autonomy and democracy.
Putin’s backers are convinced he will come out on top in Ukraine due to Russia’s military might, nuclear capability, and the abundance of resources it possesses. Putin’s nationalists envision a nation that will be more powerful than Iran, led by Putin, and rejects the Western world.
The past decade has seen immense political support for President Vladimir Putin, who has been Russia’s longest-serving leader since Joseph Stalin. While his approval rating among the Russian people has steadily decreased over the years, Putin still enjoys a relatively large support base in his own country. This can be attributed to a variety of factors, such as economic stability, patriotism, and nationalism, that have been cultivated through media campaigns and state-sponsored initiatives.
Over his term in office, Putin has cultivated a loyal following from various sections of society, including the military and business elites. This is mainly due to his strong emphasis on traditional values and national pride, which appeals particularly strongly to older generations in Russia. Furthermore, Putin’s charisma and carefully crafted public image have also helped him gain a large amount of popular support. As one military general noted, Putin is ‘an embodiment of Russian greatness; he stands for its long-lost stability and greatness. ‘
In addition to the appeal of traditional values, Putin has also sought to foster economic prosperity throughout his tenure as PresidentPresident through various state-sponsored initiatives. These initiatives are designed to increase investment in infrastructure projects and provide financial incentives for businesses operating within Russia’s borders. The combination of these efforts with ongoing propaganda campaigns emphasizing patriotism has gone a long way toward improving Russia’s economy and Putin’s popularity among many voters.
Even though President Putin’s approval ratings have been gradually decreasing over time, it is clear that he still retains a considerable degree of loyalty from certain groups within Russia, such as the military elite and business investors. Moreover, through careful manipulation of public opinion via aggressive media campaigns and pro-Russian policies meant to improve economic stability within the nation, he has maintained this loyalty for many years despite numerous military defeats abroad, such as those seen in Ukraine recently.
Meanwhile, some executives and state officials say that Putin’s status as a leader could become precarious as the higher-ups become increasingly skeptical of his strategies. The Russian President’s actions have reversed the progress achieved since the fall of the Soviet Union, and many of the oligarchs and state officials find his vision of the country alarming. They have concluded that the war was a major blunder that has yet to yield any success. However, they are petrified and have remained quiet in public.
Boris Bondarev, who used to be assigned to the Russian UN mission in Geneva, and is the sole diplomat who stepped down from their post because of the war, explained that the elite understands that the war was an error; however, due to their reliance on Vladimir Putin, they are hesitant to take any action.
It’s believed that Putin can remain in control without winning the war so long as he continues it and exhausts the resolve and military supplies of the West. Bondarev commented that, for any elite to act, “there needs to be an understanding that Putin is leading the country to total collapse. While Putin is still bombing and attacking, people think the situation is not so bad. There needs to be a full military loss, and only then will people understand they need to do something.”
All camps appear to concur that Putin is not eager to surrender. On the contrary, as the situation in Russia worsened over the past few months, he upped the ante multiple times, altering his military leadership, launching fierce air raids on civilian facilities, and warning of potential nuclear weapons usage.
“Putin requires success to illustrate to society that he is still exceptionally successful,” says a senior Ukrainian security official about Putin’s diminishing influence.
State of War
As the death toll rises in Ukraine, families in Russia are burying their loved ones. Yet, all the while, the city of Moscow is putting on a show of hedonistic nonchalance. Its restaurants and cafes are full of fashionable youth wearing European brands, taking selfies on the newest iPhones, and indulging in truffle pizza and duck confit washed down with stylish drinks.
Despite appearances, Putin is building a militarized, nationalistic country, fed on pro-government messages and focused on a continuous “existential” battle with the United States and NATO. Yet, as of now, nobody in politics has dared to speak, at least not openly.
After Putin took office in 2000, his authority was bolstered by his popularity among the elite and his power to scare them by confiscating some of their possessions and imprisoning others. However, his defeats in Ukraine have caused a dent in his credibility.
The President’s tenure has been plagued by his memories of the USSR’s relinquishment of its European standing when the Berlin Wall crumbled. His attempts to recover the dominion lost with the Soviet fall led the nation back to a dismal, oppressive, and estranged past. Putin’s campaign is a quest to set right what he has seen as the misdeeds of history. According to his almost fanatical rewritten version, Ukraine has eternally been part of Russia.
If Putin successfully persuades Ukraine to surrender and render the occupied land, those in the upper echelons of society with more progressive views stand to suffer the most. The Western economic sanctions will likely remain, and several oligarchs would probably be obligated to finance the reconstruction of the new Russian territories. Some observers forecast a significant cleansing of those oligarchs and other people who are not considered sufficiently loyal.
In Krasnodar, a pair was shockingly apprehended, cuffed, and thrown to the ground after being reported to the authorities by a listener who heard them softly grieving the conflict.
Then, an elderly person on a bus was physically removed from her spot and forced out of the vehicle by some other people on board. This was in response to her statement that Russia is an empire that dispatches men to fight wearing inexpensive rubber boots.
The footage depicts individuals connected to the officially unrecognized yet sanctioned Wagner Group administering severe beatings to “traitors” with a sledgehammer.
Alexandra Prokopenko, a one-time official of a central bank, expressed that there is an atmosphere of apprehension among officials, as they are threatened by the security services and potentially face imprisonment.
“It is a concern for every member of the Russian elite,” said Prokopenko, who is in exile in the West. “It’s a question of survival for high-ranked, mid-ranked officials who all remained in Russia. People are quite terrified about their safety now.” She said former colleagues still at the bank told her they saw “no good exit for Russia right now.”
As his isolation increases, Putin has to deal with the disapproval of the hawkish nationalists, who believe he should have taken Kyiv more forcefully, and the liberal-leaning faction, who assert the war he has waged is a mistake. As a result, he has surrounded himself with a select few hard-liners and admirers, eliminated all possible contenders for the opposition, and established an intimidating security system to guard against potential danger.
Analysts in favor of the Kremlin maintain that increasing troops and military production is the way to success, which is definitely in line with Putin’s personality.
Putin’s Clouded Ambitions
No one is certain about Putin’s ambitions for the military or what he may deem a success. Some believe he is content with controlling Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk districts, which have seen Russian-backed insurgency since 2014. However, others think he is still aiming to take over the capital city of Kyiv and overthrow the country’s current rulers.
When September rolled around, a big win for Ukraine on the battlefield called attention to Putin’s response to a crisis: he opted to increase pressure instead of trying to work out a deal. Even though he did not have an army there yet, his illegal attempt to annex four Ukrainian territories was a tactic to draw clear boundaries on the country’s map.
At the gathering in the Grand Kremlin Palace’s St. George Hall, he spoke of what he perceived as the West’s “outright Satanism” and its aim to absorb Russia and demolish its values. His address on the occasion of the assumed annexations escalated to a frenzied level.
“They do not want us to be free; they want us to be a colony,” he said. “They do not want equal cooperation; they want to loot. They do not want to see us a free society, but a mass of soulless slaves.” He has repeatedly described a quest to establish a multipolar world in which Russia regains its rightful place among the great powers.”
However, he said those who sacrificed their life to the war would have fulfilled meaningful lives.
Companies and Elites on Edge
"Putin needs to be at war to distract his people from being angry with him, because he's stolen too much money"
Author Bill Browder says Russian President Vladimir Putin is "terrified of his own people"https://t.co/Epdn4gePFt #BBCLauraK pic.twitter.com/2P4Sj3J2HA
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) February 19, 2023
On occasion, Putin has been known to harshly reprimand his appointees for their shortcomings, and this has left many of his associates feeling apprehensive of public embarrassment. He promotes those who demonstrate a less-than-savory character, like Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Yevgeniy Prigozhin, founder of Wagner. However, he will quickly put them in their place if they fail to follow instructions.
There are times when Putin appears to be oblivious to his combat circumstances. For example, shortly after bloggers sympathetic to the war declared that a large number of Russian tanks and servicemen had perished in a failed assault on Vuhledar involving Russia’s distinguished 155th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade, Putin stated to reporters that the “marine infantry is executing their duties in an exemplary manner at the moment – exhibiting great courage.”
In public, Putin has not expressed worry about Russia’s violent acts against civilians in cities like Bucha, Mariupol, and Izyum. His media outlets, meanwhile, have characterized reports of these atrocities as “fakes.” An examination of war crimes in Ukraine is being conducted by the International Criminal Court, and the European Parliament has recommended the founding of a separate court to investigate Russia’s aggression, namely its invasion of Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s PR team does all it can to depict Putin in a powerful light, usually with him cast as the solitary figure laying flowers at monuments of past military heroes. His meetings with the alleged “ordinary Russians” tend to be rehearsed and have an artificial feel. The same individuals show up in different settings, often dressed in uniforms, as fishermen or even church attendees, leaving one to ponder how many genuine people Putin has contact with.
As the losses caused by the war increase, Putin and his top supporters are promoting a fatalistic doctrine of death in which they contend that it is more desirable to die in Russia’s war than from any other cause, such as a car accident, alcoholism, or cancer.
Organizations that are held in high regards, like Memorial and the Sakharov Center, have unfortunately been shut down, and renowned political analysts, musicians, journalists, and ex-political prisoners of the Soviet Union have been declared as “foreign agents.” As a result, many have had to flee or have been imprisoned.
“The economy has entered a long period of Argentinization,” a second Russian billionaire said. “It will be a long slow degradation. There will be less of everything.”
The effects of sanctions are starting to be felt as prices increase and businesses have difficulty adjusting. As a result, economists and corporate leaders anticipate a long-term economic downturn resulting from the cut-off of access to Western technology, ideals, and supply chains.
The war has resulted in a profound transformation of Russia, with Putin applying more significant restrictions on freedom and causing hundreds of thousands of Russians to seek a new life abroad. In the future, it is expected that pro-democracy supporters will not be accepted, according to analysts.
The war in Ukraine has been a costly endeavor for Russia, leading to economic hardship and possible long-term damage to the nation’s prestige.
The long-term effects of the conflict on Putin himself have become equally concerning. As his support among the populace has waned due to economic suffering, he has become increasingly isolated both domestically and internationally. This isolation was compounded by Western nations issuing multiple rounds of sanctions against him, which targeted his inner circle of close advisors, further weakening his influence.
Moreover, many analysts fear that Putin’s disastrous foray into Ukraine could lead to widespread civil unrest within Russia itself. Political scientists argue that “Putin is facing increasing challenges and risks domestically. When he announced this mass mobilization, what Russia is calling a ‘partial mobilization,’ there were protests in 38 Russian cities. At least 1,200 people have been arrested and likely a lot more.”
“Officially, the survey data suggest that Putin’s approval ratings are still high. But we have increasing questions about how reliable those data are in Russia. And it’s very likely if his regime continues to mobilize Russian men, and continues to send those men to war, the Russian public may not support those efforts.
“But there’s also every reason to think that Putin is going to take this to the bitter end. He is very ideologically committed to taking over Ukraine, and it’s not clear that public opinion ever drove his decision to accelerate this war in early 2022, or would now alter his commitment.
As for Putin getting replaced:
“Putin has been in power since 2000. He has been remarkably resilient at staying in power, and there is no indication that he’s going to voluntarily step down anytime soon. If he does lose power, I don’t think we’ll know until the day after it happens. In the short term, we’re likely to see a lot more fighting and a lot more deaths.
As such, it is clear that without some sort of decisive victory over Ukraine — one which would help rebuild Russia’s reputation — Putin could find himself facing an uncertain future as well as potential disaster for his nation at home and abroad.
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