The Ukrainian counter-offensive, which has been anticipated since the end of last year, has begun. Will it become a contributing factor in Russian domestic politics?
We started by noting that the discontent of the elites has manifested in the media and information sphere in intercepted telephone conversations
, Kremlin talk shows, and even the discourse during official assemblies. We will see more and more instances of this cropping up over time.
It is impossible to predict, however, the extent to which this will shake the system. More likely, the members of the elite, who are in a state of constant stress, will simply lie low. They will continue to help the regime save face on a financial level. This line of behavior may not be insurance for the future, but rather some sort of self-justification.
For example, over the past couple of months, [Prime Minister Mikhail] Mishustin has occupied second place in the Levada Center’s trust rating. This is an open poll where the respondent is asked to name a politician they trust. Mishustin bypassed Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who have both completely ruined their own credibility over the course of the current catastrophe.
Mishustin is responsible for the economy, which only fell a little. Mishustin, who didn’t start out as a politician, became the second most important figure in the country. This is perhaps the only half-positive scenario for those among the elite who would like to preserve their position in the post-Putin future: occupying a niche, sitting back, and then claiming to have done good: ‘I improved the economy and dreamed of negotiations with the West, so lift some of these sanctions, please.’Putin himself acknowledged the existence of the counteroffensive. Based on this reaction, how would you assess Putin's condition?
Somewhat paradoxically, at certain times, Putin resembles Yeltsin in his period of helplessness when, during one 1996 terrorist attack, he famously boasted about ‘38 snipers’
allegedly providing support to the Russian special services. Putin’s assessment of the situation during a meeting with pro-war bloggers
, in which he stated that everything was fine, and would soon be even better, is also not a demonstration of strength, but of helplessness.
But in the Yeltsin era, the public perceived his ‘38 sniper’ remark as weakness, whereas nowadays, those same passive conformists convince themselves to take Putin’s assessments at face value, still afraid of leaving their own comfort zone.
As for Putin's more general line of conduct, he certainly behaves like any ordinary dictator in a personalist regime. This is unique for the 21st century, but not unique for the 20th century with its ultra-conservative, archaic ideology.
Incidentally, observers have often said that Putin is only interested in money, corruption and nothing else, that he has no ideology. But how is this true? The current state of affairs stems directly from an ideological value system promoting imperialism, nationalism, and archaism.
From a psychological perspective, Putin can be compared to Stalin in his later years. He has the same paranoid ideas associated with conspiracy theories and is waging a fierce war against the fifth column on the domestic front. The current period corresponds to the window of time between the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s.The war has come to Russian cities, but so far remains on the periphery. Could this change the Russian public’s attitude and undermine support for Putinism?
On the one hand, it drives people into depression and forces them to search for strategies to save themselves. Emigration, although not as prevalent as in 2022, is still a frequent occurrence. Others hide from the harsh reality in their private lives.
But for some, this is a reason to rally forces and say: ‘You see, we have no other choice, we need to beat the Ukrainians and NATO until we achieve our ultimate victory.’
Recently, the Pskov governor announced
that citizens should prepare to form self-defense units. This speaks not of the strength, but of the weakness of the state.