September 27, 2022

Opinion: Putin has just laid a land mine under his regime

5 min read

Editor’s note: Editor’s note: Andrei Kolesnikov He is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is the author of several books on the political and social history of Russia. “Five Five-Year Liberal Reforms.” The Origins of Russian Modernism and the Legacy of Igor Gaydar. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more Opinion Articles On CNN


Russian President Vladimir Putin made the announcement in a televised national address on Wednesday morning. Partial dynamic This means that he has essentially broken an unwritten social contract with the Russians: we, the citizens, allow you, the authorities, to steal and fight, but in return you invade our private lives. stay away from

By ushering in a new phase of the war, the cornered Putin is dragging a significant portion of Russians behind him. He has declared war not only on the opposition and civil society, but on the home front against Russia’s male population.

Why is Putin taking the risk? Because he himself has encouraged public inattention to the war for months. The mobilization is fueled by deep discontent in the society. This is the reason why he decided to be partially immobilized instead of fully immobilized. In the long run, he laid a mine in his reign. In the short term, he will face destruction.

For so long, Putin has cultivated a public inclination for war, an inclination that will now cost the Russians, who are being turned into cannon fodder.

How might Wednesday’s announcement jolt the Russians out of their comfort zone — remaining indifferent to “special operations” under current circumstances?

At least so far, the main emotion (or lack thereof) felt here was apathy. This indifference comes in different colors – real, simulated or self-inflicted.

Comes in Russian Joe 30% who “rather” support “special operations”. (About 50% “definitely” support him, less than 20% do not) He has no opinion of his own, preferring to borrow it from TV or Putin, for himself. Avoid bad news and alternative sources of information. . But they sometimes War itself does not likeand one of those 30% could potentially change their attitude about Putin and his actions.

The apathy of ordinary people benefits Putin. We, the citizens, do not interfere in the affairs of our political class and support their actions, but in return we ask them to maintain a sense of normalcy.

This is what Putin does, expertly combining war and self-support (which happened shortly after the invasion began) and demobilization. Entertainment programs are back on TV, fireworks are set off at the annual Moscow City Day celebrations (an ironic joke of the day was that Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin celebrated the start of the Ukrainian reprisal), and people Living their normal lives – interested in events Ukraine has decreased throughout the summer.

But even the apathetic could not ignore Ukraine’s counterattack. Even here, though, reluctance to know the truth prevailed: if officials said it was not a retreat, but a reorganization of the forces, then it was. Yet the Kremlin’s official talk shows were also filled with admissions of failure.

It did not inspire a desire for peace – which is also present in the mood of those who generally support the operation – but it did spark an explosion of aggression and hate speech. But there were calls. “Take off the white gloves” And already really punished Ukraine. This is what Putin has done by launching. Missile attacks On infrastructure – power plants and hydroelectric facilities. It is revenge and anger, but anger that shows weakness rather than strength.

gave Radicals are unhappy with Putin. And call for war and general mobilization to the bitter end. But the Kremlin dictator lacks the resources for a quick victory, including, above all, human resources (which is why he is recruiting cannon fodder, even Criminals pronouncing their sentences).

That said, it is not in Putin’s interest to stoke the discontent of the middle class, who are happy to watch the war from their couches on TV, but are not going to go into the trenches. Furthermore, mobilization in general would divert the human capital needed by the economy – simply put, hardly anyone would work.

Discontent with Putin on the part of radical hawks is not a new phenomenon. But even so, it has not yet revealed itself so clearly. However, they have no chance of competing with Putin – ultra-conservative fundamentalists will be suppressed with the same energy as pro-Western liberals: the dictator will not tolerate any competition in the niche of war and imperialism.

Public opinion in Russia is very passive, and it would take something extraordinary to seriously change the mood. The same is the case with economic problems. Till now the socio-economic crisis was not so visible. Its full launch is being postponed, but, as Some economists saywill probably reveal itself in late 2022/early 2023.

While public opinion remains stagnant, Putin has an opportunity to find words to pass off defeats as victories. He can stop the war now by counting losses as gains. And in part he did, when he decided to undo the damage by announcing the immediate holding of referendums in the four occupied regions of Ukraine on annexation with Russia.

It is clear that Putin is not ready to stop what he started. He believes that Russia will succeed on the battlefield. Or at least establish a strong foothold in the occupied territories, declaring them Russian, in which case any fighting in them would be treated as an attack on Russia. And then it would have the opportunity to move the “special operations” into official war status and create the possibility of general mobilization. Now Putin has announced only limited, “partial” mobilization.

And it could all be a mistake. The longer Putin takes to end the war – even that is already a given. Publicly expressed caution. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi among his key “friends” – it will be just as difficult for him to make peace later that can be presented as a victory.

Yes, public opinion is mentally prepared for one. long war, But who knows when the weariness of constant tension, which has to be relieved by a carefully cultivated indifference, will break and the mood will change. Putin says he has time. The Russian army is in no hurry.

But as time goes on, defeats will become harder to pass off as victories – especially for the reluctant 30% who “rather” support it.

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