Political Observer comments.
Headline: Isolated, out of touch, but clinging on: how Russians see Putin
Sub-headline: A year on from the disastrous invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin could be just one crisis away from collapse
The reader might wonder at the ‘sources’ of Professor Professor Mark Galeotti’s essay, those twenty books act as a preamble, after a political/psychological portrait of Putin. And his evolving ‘methodology’ for the care and maintenance of his power?
Vladimir Putin is notorious for asking Russian historians how he will be judged a hundred years hence. With his invasion of Ukraine, he has ensured that he will be assessed a failure, an example of the way hubris can devour any initial successes.
Had Putin chosen to step down at the end of his second presidential term, in 2008, it is likely he would be remembered as someone who dragged Russia back from the brink of collapse, even if often by brutal methods.
He then spent four years running the country behind his proxy-president Dmitry Medvedev before returning to the Kremlin. Had he retired after his third term in 2018, he would have left a Russia in dispute with Ukraine and the West, but in possession of Crimea. As it was, though, he was not content, and let his desperation to leave his mark on history drive him to fatal overreach.
What does this war show us about Putin? Has he changed so much from the apparently cautious and calculating figure who humbled rebellious Chechnya and defiant Georgia, and effortlessly seized Crimea?
Only in degree: Putin is still Putin, just much more so. Like so many autocrats, over time he became a caricature of himself, with any past strengths becoming weaknesses.
All of the above lacks empirical evidence, because it is based on Galeotti’s Mastery of Putinology After the introductory paragraphs Prof. Galeotti provides subject headings to frame his arguments: Yet The Critical Reader might wonder at Prof. Galeotti as a ‘Senior Associate Fellow’ at RUSI:
The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) is the world’s oldest and the UK’s leading defence and security think tank. Our mission is to inform, influence and enhance public debate to help build a safer and more stable world.
Prof. Galeotti is a Government Employee, in a not very roundabout way. So this explanation of Prof. Galeotti‘s political standing provided by The Times is incomplete, in the most self-serving way:
Professor Mark Galeotti is the author of over 20 books on Russia, most recently Putin’s Wars: From Chechnya to Ukraine, published by Bloomsbury
So the essay that he writes is in fact propaganda, under the banner of political comment! Here are the paragraph titles provided by Galeotti: Note my reductionism of these pseudo-historical observations, for want of more apt term!
From confidence to arrogance:
In previous wars, Putin was often lucky.
The second Chechen war (1999-2009) was horrific…
The five-day war against Georgia in 2009 was fought against a country…
The 2014 annexation of Crimea took place…
Nonetheless, this cultivated Putin’s belief that he was a geopolitical mastermind with an unstoppable army.
Egotism becomes isolation:
Putin’s system was always what I term adhocracy, shaped by the protean politics of the court, in which the favour of the monarch is the real currency of power.
In earlier years, Putin was willing to listen to alternative perspectives and keep around him those who might challenge his assumptions.
…his circle has shrunk to a handful of mini-mes … Nikolai Patrushev, … Alexander Bortnikov, … Yuri Kovalchuk…
None challenged Putin’s view that Ukraine was not a “real” country —…
Distance turns into detachment
This insulation from reality is also putting stress on his political system.
The system depended on him being the arbitrator.
Now, presumably consumed by the war, he is out of touch and not doing his job, and fierce personal and policy rows are emerging, unchecked by the boss.
… One of the most serious is between Yevgeny Prigozhin, businessman… and Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister.
After all, this model of competing initiatives has also been exported disastrously on to the battlefield.
…but there are many others, including Wagner, the paramilitary National Guard, Chechen fighters loyal to their leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, and the armies of the former “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk,…
Fighting among themselves
Sometimes they co-operate, sometimes they compete, and this can prove murderous. There have been brawls and firefights between army and Wagner troops.
…ultra-nationalist captain Igor Mangushev was killed in an ambush blamed not on the Ukrainians but on everyone from the army to the Chechens.
…the need to keep Putin happy continues…the need to keep Putin happy continues…demoted in January after just three months because he had not delivered any victories.
…Valery Gerasimov, seems to have launched the long-awaited spring offensive…
Relying on a Pyrrhic victory
Of course, it is foolish ever wholly to discount Russia’s latent strengths. Putin probably still believes he can win, if he can outlast western unity and resolve. Without the billions being spent every month to maintain the Ukrainian war effort and economy alike, Kyiv would be in a much more perilous position. It could still be that he is right.
Editor: Let me interject; this resembles Realism?
President Zelensky predicted a “big Israel” — and unlikely to be willing to accept this as a final outcome. His chances of being able to block Ukraine joining the EU or even Nato are likely minimal.
Disillusion with their leader
Even Putin’s former partisans are beginning to see that the tsar has no clothes.
Putin demands miracles and when they cannot deliver, he publicly humiliates them. Denis Manturov, the industry minister, was publicly upbraided for “fooling around” having failed to establish a domestic industry building…
The kleptocrats who backed Putin because he offered unlimited opportunities for enrichment are finding the pickings getting leaner, the competition sharper and the chances to enjoy their success limited.
Most seriously, the hawks and nationalists who used to believe in Putin are becoming disillusioned by the incompetence, corruption and indecision on show in Ukraine.
Lack of a real alternative
That said, Putin may stay in power for some time: these kinds of regimes can be hard to unseat, at least so long as the security apparatus sees no better alternative.
…and tens of thousands have been arrested, prosecuted, beaten and imprisoned for expressing their opposition.
Besides, as the West arms and funds Ukraine, Putin’s claims — that they are facing a hostile coalition that wants to see Russia humbled and even forcibly broken apart — do spark a certain grudging patriotism.
Increasingly, his strongest asset is the lack of a clear, credible alternative rather than any great enthusiasm for him.
The latest official figures have shown the budget deficit growing after oil and gas revenues nearly halved over the past year.
Who is lying to whom?
The result is a rotten state. It may look sturdy at first glance and in his delayed state of the nation address, now scheduled for Tuesday, Putin will try to put a positive gloss on the situation. However, this will be a mix of propaganda and self-deception: one Russian political commentator privately lamented: “The tragedy is that it’s impossible to tell these days when Putin is lying or when people are lying to Putin.”
Putin arguably dragged Russia back from near-collapse in the early 2000s, but the very characteristics that made him successful then have metastised now into weaknesses.
Putin the Terrible
There is a striking parallel with the very first tsar, Ivan the Terrible. The institutions of modern government in Russia began to emerge in the first half of his reign, but as he was increasingly gripped by hubris and paranoia, the latter years were soaked in blood and terror. This led to the Time of Troubles, a prolonged era of crisis and war after his death.
Although there is little likelihood of Russia breaking apart, 1990s-style chaos is not impossible. As Putin may also discover, a state-maker may prove a state-breaker, too.
For not just an alternative view, to the question of the American Proxy War in Ukraine, The Reader need only turn to Douglas Macgregor on YouTube. Whose experience, expertise and political sanity demonstrates his mastery of subject and practice!