Will Ukraine be Putin’s downfall?

Vladimir Putin. illustrated | Getty Images

Russia this week stepped up its crackdown on protests against President Vladimir Putin’s order of a “partial mobilization” to strengthen its war effort in Ukraine. Putin last week ordered 300,000 military reserves into active duty, prompting crowds to pour into the streets of Moscow and other cities, with many shouting, “Get Putin into the trenches!” and “Let our children live!” There have been 17 attacks on conscription centers, including one in Siberia, where a young man, upset by his friend, was reportedly recruited and seriously injured a chief recruiter. Young people who were desperate to avoid conscription rushed to the border or boarded a plane to leave the country.

The unpopular mobilization came after a Ukrainian counteroffensive forced Russian troops into an embarrassing retreat from parts of eastern Ukraine that they seized at the start of the war. Western officials say Russia has suffered between 70,000 and 80,000 casualties since the invasion of Ukraine in February. Russian media have claimed that young men who have never served in the military, not just reservists, are now being drafted, as are some men over the age of conscription, fueling suspicion that Putin is trying to mobilize more than a million. of new soldiers. The Kremlin denies this, but the draft is also upsetting some of Putin’s allies. “They are pissing people off, as if on purpose, as if out of spite,” Margarita Simonyan, chief editor of state-run media outlet RT, told Radio Free Europe. Has Putin calculated so badly that his political survival is at risk?

Putin put himself at risk

Vladimir Putin’s effort “to mobilize Russian men to fight has turned into a debacle,” he says. The Washington Post in an editorial. After managing to keep calm in Russian public opinion over his unprovoked war “through a combination of propaganda, lies, censorship and harsh punishment of criticism and dissension,” Putin broke the quiet with his unpopular mobilization, sending young men running towards the exits and awakening a suddenly angry population.

“There is a deeper crack behind the upheaval.” For years Putin was able to do what he wanted thanks to a tacit agreement according to which “people agreed to stay out of politics in exchange for the government not to interfere in their daily life”. After the war began, most Russians continued as before, ignoring the invasion with increasing casualties and economic costs. Now, as sociologist Greg Yudin noted, “Russians are quickly coming out of hibernation and asking questions they haven’t asked for a long time.” This “could undermine” Putin just when he needs the public on his side to pull out his “desperate grip of cannon fodder” as his war effort falters.

Putin angered allies as well as critics

Putin has provoked increasing pressure from all sides in Russia, say Michael Kimmage and Maria Lipman Foreign policy. There are the opponents of the war, of course, but Putin too is rejected “by those who are dismayed by the astonishing incompetence and apparent lack of determination of the military. The first group has almost no political power. The second, however, has the power. potential to merge in a challenge to Putin “even by some of his” staunchest supporters “.

To limit the “risk to Putin’s power and the threat of large-scale resistance”, the Kremlin will have to intensify the repression of dissent. The danger for the Kremlin is that the repression, which has already begun with the arrest of thousands of anti-war protesters, “can take on a chaotic momentum. It can generate disgust and indignation ”. It has already caused unrest in the military centers. “Such incidents could multiply and become difficult for the Russian government to manage.” The world should not count on “a revolution or a palace coup”, but “should prepare for a long war” now that the conflict has become “existential” for “Putin and his entourage”.

Putin has options, but not good ones

He expected a quick war, but Putin is “compromised” in an endless conflict, he says The Guardian in an editorial. It is now “making cannon fodder for its own citizens” in “a desperate strategy based on a demoralized, ill-coordinated and corrupt Russian army that survives Ukraine’s willingness to fight for its survival. This was a formula for it. humiliate the overbearing powers in the past. So it’s proving itself again.

The Ukrainian counter-offensive forced Putin to “downgrade his ambitions from regime change in Kiev to the ‘liberation of the entire Donbas territory'”. He hopes that the bogus referendums he just held in the occupied Ukrainian border regions will allow him to annex these regions and claim that they belong to Russia. “Renaming Ukrainian territory as part of Russia is part of a strategy to present war as self-defense, with Kiev as a cover for the aggressor, NATO. This is a monstrous reversal of reality, but one that has an edge over the Russian nationalist fantasy. “.

Putin is under threat and more dangerous than ever

Now that Putin is desperate, we should all be worried, says David Sacks a The American Conservative. “Putin proved to be a ruthless and calculating killer when he was threatened.” Just look at how many of his opponents “have mysteriously died falling down the stairs, or from the windows, or by involuntary ingestion of rare poisons”. Now that he is facing protests and growing pressure from President Biden and the West, “Putin just faces greater threats to his survival.”

The Russian hardliners argue that “he fought this war with insufficient troops, weapons and ferocity and consider the partial mobilization of 300,000 troops to be half a measure”. The West now dreams of Putin’s total defeat, sending Russia back to the February 23 borders and returning the formerly annexed Crimean peninsula. But “Putin would probably face a violent coup if he accepted such a defeat,” so the danger is that “he uses every weapon at his disposal”, even tactical nuclear weapons, to ensure his survival now that he is “cornered” . “

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