Vladimir Putin & Russia May 2022-

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Vladimir Putin & Russia 2021-April 2022
Putin’s Road to War

21-26 September
Putin’s debacle is breaking his country — and he might pay the price
WaPo Editorial Board
Like so much else in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s senseless and vicious assault on Ukraine, his attempt to mobilize Russian men to fight has turned into a debacle. After months of preserving relative calm about the war among the Russian public — through a combination of propaganda, lies, censorship and harsh punishment of criticism and dissent — Mr. Putin has broken the quiet himself. Thousands of Russian men are running for the exits.
For many years, Mr. Putin maintained what scholar Masha Lipman dubbed a “no-participation pact” with a swath of the Russian public: These people agreed to stay out of politics in exchange for the government not interfering in their daily lives. After the war began, many Russians kept quiet or just tried to ignore it; mass protests did not break out. But the mobilization threatens to destroy this compact. Sociologist Greg Yudin notes that Mr. Putin did not initiate a political mobilization before launching the military one. He says Russians are quickly snapping out of lethargy and asking questions that they hadn’t for a long time. This might weaken Mr. Putin still more. Ukraine and its allies must keep the pressure on.
The Russian Clocks Are All TickingPutin is running out of time.
By Tom Nichols
(The Atlantic) Putin, like many authoritarians, relies on an image of personal invulnerability, and so he rightly fears the political risks of military defeat. At home, even his most loyal sycophants are demanding that he do something to stem the losses in Ukraine.
Putin has answered this call by making two foolish moves. First, he is now getting personally involved in some of the operational decisions in Ukraine; second, he has begun a conscription drive that is supposed to mobilize an additional 300,000 men into the Russian military. Both of these decisions will speed up the clocks on the many growing threats to his regime, including sanctions, social unrest, and military collapse, among others.
Vladimir Putin’s ship of fools is sinking fast. Will he take everyone down with him?
The scale of the Kremlin’s strategic failures in Ukraine is epic – and the exploded myth of Russian power may lead to the unravelling of the regime
Simon Tisdall
(The Guardian) Putin’s speech last week, mobilising reserves, preparing territorial annexations, and threatening nuclear war, might easily have followed a different tack. Instead of escalating, he could have claimed victory, declared a ceasefire.
An offer of negotiations would have wrongfooted Kyiv, stymying its advance, freezing the conflict and dividing Moscow’s enemies. He could have won time to regroup. He could even have put his hand up, swallowed humble pie.
But he didn’t do any of that. Ever resentful and vindictive, Putin lacks the necessary courage and imagination. He got it wrong, again. And so a critical moment passed. Now it’s Russia’s regime, not Ukraine, that faces shipwreck.
The Kremlin Must Be in Crisis
Over the next few days, the bogus referenda will gather headlines, and the nuclear threats will create fear, as they were designed to do. But we should understand these attempts at blackmail and intimidation as a part of the deeper story told by this delayed speech: Support for Putin is eroding—abroad, at home, and in the army. Everything else he says and does right now is nothing more than an attempt to halt that decline..
By Anne Applebaum
(The Atlantic) If an American president announced a major speech, booked the networks for 8 p.m., and then disappeared until the following morning, the analysis would be immediate and damning: chaos, disarray, indecision. The White House must be in crisis.
In the past 24 hours, this is exactly what happened in Moscow. The Russian president really did announce a major speech, alert state television, warn journalists, and then disappear without explanation. Although Vladimir Putin finally gave his speech to the nation this morning, the same conclusions have to apply: chaos, disarray, indecision. The Kremlin must be in crisis.
…now that Ukraine has successfully recaptured thousands of square miles of Russian-held territory, the sham referenda are being rushed, the nuclear language is being repeated, and the mobilization expanded. These are not the actions of a secure leader assured of his legitimacy and of the outcome of this war.
In part, the crisis stems from Putin’s fears that he will lose whatever counts as his international support. No ideology holds together the global autocrats’ club, and no sentiment does either. As long as they believed Russia really had the second largest army in the world, as long as Putin seemed destined to stay in power indefinitely, then the leaders of China, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, along with the strongmen running India and Turkey, were happy to tolerate his company.
Putin announces partial mobilisation and threatens nuclear retaliation in escalation of Ukraine war
Russian president threatens west with nuclear retaliation, saying ‘we will use all the means at our disposal’

17 September
Putin’s Russian Empire is collapsing like its Soviet predecessor
By Taras Kuzio, professor of political science at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy
(Atlantic Council) As Vladimir Putin’s disastrous invasion of Ukraine continues to unravel, growing numbers of Western experts are predicting the breakup of the Russian Federation itself. While Russia may yet survive the debacle in Ukraine, it is already apparent that the Kremlin has suffered an historic loss of influence in the wider post-Soviet region. As in 1991, this collapse has been brought about by Ukraine’s drive to escape Moscow’s control.
Since the early 1990s, the Kremlin has insisted that the West recognize the former Soviet Union as Russia’s exclusive sphere of influence. This demand predates Vladimir Putin’s rise to power by nearly a decade and is one of the central pillars of modern Russian foreign policy. In other words, Moscow never truly accepted the verdict of 1991 and has always sought to retain its imperial influence throughout the former USSR.

For Russia’s Putin, military and diplomatic pressures mount
(AP) — Pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin mounted on the battlefield and in the halls of global power as Ukrainian troops pushed their counteroffensive Saturday to advance farther into Ukraine’s partly recaptured northeast.
At a high-level summit in Uzbekistan, Putin vowed to press his attack on Ukraine despite recent military setbacks but also faced concerns by India and China over the drawn-out conflict.

13 September
Ian Bremmer: Ukrainian counteroffensive leaves Putin with few good options
Ukraine has turned the tide on the war. That makes Russia even more dangerous.

10 September
The World Putin Wants
How Distortions About the Past Feed Delusions About the Future
By Fiona Hill and Angela Stent
(Foreign Affairs September/October 2022 issue) Vladimir Putin is determined to shape the future to look like his version of the past. Russia’s president invaded Ukraine not because he felt threatened by NATO expansion or by Western “provocations.” He ordered his “special military operation” because he believes that it is Russia’s divine right to rule Ukraine, to wipe out the country’s national identity, and to integrate its people into a Greater Russia.
He laid out this mission in a 5,000-word treatise, published in July 2021, entitled, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” … This treatise, and similar public statements, make clear that Putin wants a world where Russia presides over a new Slavic union composed of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and perhaps the northern part of Kazakhstan (which is heavily Slavic)—and where all the other post-Soviet states recognize Russia’s suzerainty. He also wants the West and the global South to accept Russia’s predominant regional role in Eurasia. This is more than a sphere of influence; it is a sphere of control, with a mixture of outright territorial reintegration of some places and dominance in the security, political, and economic spheres of others.
Understanding his objectives is central to crafting the right response.
As Russians Retreat, Putin Is Criticized by Hawks Who Trumpeted His War
Russian bloggers reporting from the front line provide a uniquely less-censored view of the war. But as Russia’s military flails, these once vocal supporters are exposing its flaws, lies and all.
(NYT) The outrage from Russian hawks on Saturday showed that even as Mr. Putin had succeeded in eliminating just about all of the liberal and pro-democracy opposition in Russia’s domestic politics, he still faced the risk of discontent from the conservative end of the political spectrum. For the moment, there was little indication that these hawks would turn on Mr. Putin as a result of Ukraine’s seemingly successful counteroffensive; but analysts said that their increasing readiness to criticize the military leadership publicly pointed to simmering discontent within the Russian elite.

6 September
Why Vladimir Putin still has widespread support in Russia
Alexander Hill, Professor of Military History, University of Calgary
(The Conversation) Russian public opinion polls have suggested an increase in Putin’s popularity after the invasion. Support for the war itself is not as high as Putin’s overall approval rating — but he can still count on majority support for the invasion.
Additionally, the Russian economy has remained surprisingly robust — to a considerable extent helped by the sanctions meant to damage it. By denying themselves Russian oil and to a lesser extent gas, European countries contributed to an increase in oil and gas prices that has buoyed the Russian coffers.
Western commentators have also suggested that, simmering beneath the opinion poll numbers, there is latent opposition to Putin that isn’t being expressed because of fear. At the same time, there have been arguments that the Russian population is subject to a barrage of pro-Kremlin propaganda and therefore unable to really question the status quo.
There’s no question the Russian population is subject to a Russian media largely loyal to the Kremlin — and speaking out publicly against the war will certainly get you into trouble in Russia. But that doesn’t mean Putin lacks genuine supporters.

12 August
Putin and the divas: how the Kremlin waged a cultural offensive on the West
During the Cold War the arts bridged the divide between East and West. Now the Kremlin uses its prima ballerinas and opera stars to strengthen the regime
(The Times UK) As the war continued and a complex web of links between the arts world and the Russian state emerged, a wider question needed to be answered: had Putin been using culture to wield soft power beyond Russia’s borders?
“It is precisely because of the support of the most visible figures of Russian culture that Putin gained his unlimited power and is now using it against humanity in this bloody war that is destroying Ukraine,” the choreographer Ratmansky declared.

30 July
Putin’s rule is weakening
So what comes next?
Timothy Snyder
The equilibrium that keeps Putin in power — mastery over rivals, soft support in the population, the integrity of the army — is challenged by the realities of an unpredictable, costly war. Putin has been good at keeping us all in a fog. But now he himself seems lost in the fog of war.
No one can say what exactly is happening inside the Kremlin. But a general predicament does seem clear. The trap laid before Putin (willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously) by rivals, by the public, and by the army looks like this: we will all agree with you that we are winning the war — and we will all have no one to blame but you if Russia loses it. This is all quite vague, half-unsaid, clouded by emotion, displacement, taboo, and fear. But it is the general picture. And in its fundamentals the trap was laid by Putin himself.

July/August 2022
Can Putin Survive? The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
By Vladislav Zubok
(Foreign Affairs) Putin’s regime is more stable than Gorbachev’s was, but if the West can stay unified, it may still be able to slowly undermine the Russian president’s power. Putin grossly miscalculated by invading Ukraine, and in doing so he has exposed the regime’s vulnerabilities—an economy that is much more interdependent with Western economies than its Soviet predecessor ever was and a highly concentrated political system that lacks the tools for political and military mobilization possessed by the Communist Party. If the war grinds on, Russia will become a less powerful international actor. A prolonged invasion may even lead to the kind of chaos that brought down the Soviet Union. But Western leaders cannot hope for such a quick, decisive victory. They will have to deal with an authoritarian Russia, however weakened, for the foreseeable future. …history foreshadows a positive end to this dystopian WWIII. Volodymyr the Great survived in Kyiv because of help from his Nordic relative, Haakon Sigurdsson, the ruler of Norway — and his Viking descendants in Sweden and Finland are choosing NATO and Volodymyr Zelensky over Vladimir Putin.

Did Putin blunder the Kremlin into a dystopian World War III?
by Mark Toth and Jonathan Sweet
(The Hill) This war is not what the Pentagon, politicians or Americans in general thought it might be: a nuclear and/or biological Armageddon. But it is global in scale — especially economically — and its outcome will be as defining as the end of WWII. Nothing less than global democracy as we have known it since 1945 is at stake.

13 July
Political Analysts Join Russia Exodus As Top Think Tank Closes
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has warned of Russia’s increasing “international isolation” in a statement on the closure of their Moscow center by the Russian Ministry of Justice on April 8.
Writing on social media Monday, Carnegie said they “regretted” the Russian government’s decision, but pledged that their staff would continue their research.
The Russian government shuttered the think tank after claiming they had “discovered violations of the Russian legislation”, but didn’t provide further details.

9 June
Putin the Great? Russia’s President Likens Himself to Famous Czar
(NYT) Among President Vladimir V. Putin’s motives for invading Ukraine, his view of himself as being on a historic mission to rebuild the Russian Empire has always loomed large. On Thursday, Mr. Putin went further, comparing himself directly to Peter the Great.
Peter, Russia’s first emperor, has always been an object of fascination for Mr. Putin, who himself comes from St. Petersburg. The Russian president keeps a bronze statue of the czar by his ceremonial desk.
But in recent days, Russian officials have been promoting the comparison between Mr. Putin and Peter with special energy; the governor of St. Petersburg on Thursday said that he felt the same pride for today’s Russian soldiers in Ukraine “as we take pride in the memory of Peter’s warriors.”
There is at least one historical problem with the official Putin-Peter comparisons.
The czar is known for opening Russia’s “window to Europe,” building St. Petersburg in a European mold and bringing Western technology and culture to Russia. Mr. Putin’s Ukraine invasion, many Russians fear, has slammed that window shut.

31 May
Putin’s Hard Choices
Why the Russian Despot Can Neither Mobilize Nor Retreat
By Michael Kimmage and Maria Lipman
(Foreign Affairs) [B]ecause the first phase of the war has been so costly for Russia and because Ukraine’s military is mounting such stiff resistance, Russia faces serious difficulty achieving anything meaningful on the battlefield without committing much more manpower than it currently has available.
Calling up large numbers of reservists while putting Russian society openly on a war footing solves the problem in theory. But it is something for which the Russian public is fundamentally unprepared. … Full-out mobilization, which would make war an inescapable fact of Russian life, would revolutionize the regime Putin has constructed since coming to power in 2000.
… The scale of the Russian invasion is vastly greater than anything undertaken in 2014, and the break between Russia and the West is almost without precedent: the scale of sanctions, the restrictions on travel, the shutting down or exit of Western institutions from Russia. And so, in the coming months, Putin will face a punishing choice. He could de-escalate and try to mend relations with the West. Or he could wage full-scale war on Ukraine, deepening even further the rift with Europe and the United States.

23 May
Russia’s Putin will be in a sanatorium and out of power by 2023, ex-MI6 chief predicts
Former MI6 head Sir Richard Dearlove said Russia’s leader will likely enter a long-term medical facility and not return to power once he is out
(SCMP) His predictions line up with other reports of Vladimir Putin losing power and receiving medical treatment
The former head of British intelligence predicted Russian President Vladimir Putin will be out of power by next year and in a medical facility for long-term illness.
Sir Richard Dearlove was head of the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6, from 1999 to 2004. He made the predictions about Putin on Wednesday during an episode of the podcast One Decision, which he co-hosts.
“I’m really going to stick my neck out. I think he’ll be gone by 2023. But probably into the sanatorium, from which he will not emerge as the leader of Russia,” he said, adding that the sanatorium would be a way to move Putin out of power without a coup.
Bellingcat’s Christo Grozev, an expert on Russian security, said last week top Kremlin security officials believe the war in Ukraine is “lost” and that Putin is losing his grip on power.
Ukraine military intelligence chief Major General Kyrylo Budanov told Sky News last week Putin was in “a very bad psychological and physical condition and he is very sick”.
Former British spy Christopher Steele recently said sources told him Putin is seriously ill and regularly leaves meetings for medical treatment, contributing to “increasing disarray in the Kremlin.” Steele, who led MI6’s Russia desk for years, compiled the infamous Trump-Russia dossier, much of which was discredited.
Putin health bombshell: Despot has ‘successful cancer op’ after ‘deepfake’ appearance
(Express UK) Vladimir Putin has had a “successful cancer operation” following rumours his recent appearances on media outlets were either pre-recorded or made with “deep-fake” technology.

19 May
Three Signs That Putin Might Be Reassessing His Plans
The war in Ukraine drags on, but there are signs of change
By Tom Nichols
(The Atlantic) The armies sent to Ukraine by Russian President Vladmir Putin continue to murder, rape, pillage, and destroy, all in the name of … well, no one but Putin is quite sure. But there are signs that some kind of Russian reassessment might be underway.
… Be assured that Putin is going to go on hammering away at Ukrainian cities and infrastructure with artillery and missiles. But his plan of capturing Ukraine whole has failed, and his forces have now lost the battles of Kyiv and Kharkiv. They’ve won—if “winning” means anything at the moment—the battle of Mariupol, by reducing that besieged city to rubble. The onslaught is not going to end anytime soon.
Nonetheless, three things have made me wonder what’s going on in the Kremlin. I am connecting these pieces of data by pure speculation at this point, but taken together they seem to be a pattern. One is Putin’s Victory Day speech, another is the phone call between U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, and the last is a striking Russian television appearance by an incisive critic of the war, retired Russian Colonel Mikhail Khodaryonok.
… Putin may have to settle for turning this war of conquest into yet another frozen conflict, where he feeds Russian boys into the meat grinder while pondering his next idiotic move. How long Russians—and the Russian military—will put up with that is anyone’s guess.

18 May
Inside Putin’s Propaganda Machine
Current and former employees describe Russian state television as an army, one with a few generals and many foot soldiers who never question their orders.

16 May
Anders Aslund: Western Advocates of Appeasement Need Crash Course in Putinology
Anders Åslund is the author of “Russia’s Crony Capitalism: The Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy”.
(Kyiv Post) In reality, neither bleeding heart liberals nor diehard realists truly understand Russian President Vladimir Putin. They fail to recognize that he is an authoritarian kleptocrat who does not care about Russia’s national interest and is focused instead on his power and wealth.
He hides this self-interest behind a façade of revisionist Russian nationalism that helps secure popular support for his criminal rule.
As I have argued in my book, Russia’s Crony Capitalism: The Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy, Putin’s personal politics combine authoritarianism and kleptocracy. He needs war not to make Russia great again but to increase his popularity and justify his repressive domestic policies. Putin also fears the rise of a democratic Ukraine and views the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration as an existential threat to his own authoritarian regime.

13 May
Vladimir Putin, Family Man
As Western nations place sanctions on people close to the Russian leader, including family members, the strict secrecy surrounding his private life is being punctured.
(NYT) A former K.G.B. operative steeped in the agency’s ways of subterfuge, disinformation and the Janus-like ability to present different selves depending on the situation, he has shrouded his personal life in secrecy and wrapped it in rumor.
He has two officially recognized daughters from his first marriage, but according to independent Russian news outlets and unverified international news reports, he may have four more children with two other women. Yet even his acknowledged daughters, now approaching middle age, are so hidden as to be unrecognizable on a Moscow street. His former wife, whom some biographers believe he married to improve his chances of entering the bachelor-resistant K.G.B., essentially vanished from view even before they divorced.

10 May
Ian Bremmer: What Putin’s Victory Day speech means for the war
The speech was important not because of what was said, but because of what wasn’t.
President Vladimir Putin was widely expected to use the occasion to do one of two things: either declare victory in Ukraine and lay the groundwork for some sort of frozen conflict, or escalate—turning the “special military operation” into a proper war, ordering a general mobilization of the Russian people, announcing the annexation of Donetsk and Luhansk, or going nuclear (figuratively, though sadly not entirely) and taking the war to NATO.
As it turns out, he did neither.
… Despite having few notable military achievements to show for, Putin could have used the speech to declare the second phase of the “special military operation” in Ukraine successful, having “liberated” Russians in the Donbas who had been previously “oppressed” by the Kyiv regime. He could have said that Ukraine had been effectively “de-Nazified and de-militarized,” having defeated the Azov battalion in Mariupol and degraded Ukraine’s military capabilities. All of this is false, of course—Russian forces have not yet managed to fully capture the city of Mariupol, let alone secured the entire Donbas, and Ukraine’s military is better armed than ever thanks to Western support. But Putin maintains near-absolute control of information within Russia, so he could have sold this narrative to his domestic audience.
Why is it bad news that he didn’t? Because that claimed “victory” could have been the face-saving offramp he needed to lock in his gains, cut his losses, and freeze the conflict—or even to start negotiating a ceasefire and a rollback of sanctions

Biden says he is worried Putin does not have a way out of Ukraine war
Biden said Putin is a very calculating man and the problem he worries about now is that the Russian leader “doesn’t have a way out right now, and I’m trying to figure out what we do about that.”

9 May
9 Theses on Putin’s Fascism for 9 May
How Putin’s myth of 2022 differs from the history of 1945
Timothy Snyder
In a number of writings since 24 February 2022 (and indeed since 24 February 2014, the date of the prior Russian invasion), I have tried to explain how Putin’s interpretation of the Soviet inheritance tends toward fascism, and thus how he justifies (at least to himself) invading Ukraine by reference to the the Second World War. Putin’s celebration of Russia’s ostensible innocence today provides the occasion for a summary of these arguments.
Russian propaganda about 1945 and 2022 is summarized in the popular slogan: “We can repeat!” But history, of course, does not repeat. And we cannot make it do so. The whole idea of repetition involves choosing a particular point in the past, idealizing it, ignoring all the context and everything that followed, and then imagining that it can be relived. Whoever performs this exercise eliminates any sense of responsibility: we were right back then, therefore we are right now, and we will always be right — no matter what we do. And so fascism’s “redemptive excess” of “patriotic arbitrariness” is attained.
Putin’s Victory Day speech gives no clue on Ukraine escalation
(Reuters) President Vladimir Putin exhorted Russians to battle in a defiant Victory Day speech on Monday, but was silent about plans for any escalation in Ukraine, despite Western warnings he might use his Red Square address to order a national mobilisation.
Western capitals had openly speculated for weeks that Putin was driving his forces to achieve enough progress by the symbolic date to declare victory – but with few gains so far, might instead announce a national call-up for war.
Heather Cox Richardson: ” [T]he powerful speech of the occasion came from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, filmed outside walking down Khreshchatyk Street, the main street in Kyiv, where normally there would be a Victory Day parade. Zelensky claimed Ukrainian ownership of victory against the Nazis in World War II, then turned to the story of the present.
Ukrainians are fighting, he said, “[f]or our freedom. For our independence. So that the victory of our ancestors was not in vain. They fought for freedom for us and won. We are fighting for freedom for our children, and therefore we will win…. And very soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine. And someone will not even have one left.
In Putin’s words: What Russia’s leader said at Victory Day parade
Russian forces and Donbas volunteers are ‘fighting for the Motherland so no one forgets the lessons of World War II’, says Vladimir Putin.
(Al Jazeera) Russia on Monday marked the the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
The following are quotes from his televised speech at the annual Victory Day parade in Red Square:

CTV News: “Diplomatic Community” May 3: what is Putin up to?
Will he declare ‘war’ on May 9 Victory Day? It would be a risky move and an admission that the “special military operation” is going the wrong way. Concern is high for food exports.

1 May
Vladimir Putin has gravely miscalculated in Ukraine
The Russian president has achieved a lot since his forces invaded Ukraine, says DW’s Miodrag Soric. It’s just that it was the opposite of what he wanted.
… Russia’s army has failed Putin. His propagandists will need to dream up some sort of victorious achievement in time for the May 9 parade, then disseminate this fabrication on state-controlled television.
… Putin must further isolate his country and escalate the conflict for his own political survival. How great must his desperation be, if he now resorts to threats to use nuclear weapons? Conventional weapons have apparently not delivered the expected results.
His actions are also leading the West toward independence from Russian energy imports within months, something it would never have done otherwise.
Nobody is talking about a swift victory over Russia — on the contrary. NATO expects this confrontation to drag on for many years. Moscow must never be allowed to be so strong again, able to wage war on other nations.
Russia must be forced to pay for Ukrainian postwar reconstruction, it must be made to withdraw its troops from Georgia and Moldova, and to leave Belarus. During the 1980s, the economically superior West used the arms race to bankrupt Russia. History is repeating itself. However, today’s Russia is weaker than the Soviet Union was at the time. And the West is bigger, more united and more powerful than ever.

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