“In a Protracted War, it is not Who Will Get Tired of Fighting Faster, but Who Has More Resources to Withstand the Stress”
February 1, 2024
  • Fedor Krasheninnikov
    Political analyst and commentator
  • Yevgeny Senshin
In an interview, political analyst Fedor Krasheninnikov warns against expectations that war fatigue or public discontent might drain the Kremlin’s resolve to prosecute the war. He also notes that though Russian émigres may generate new ideas about Russia’s future, that will be determined inside Russia.
The original text in Russian was published in Republic. A shortened version is being republished here with their permission.
A protest in Yakutsk. Residents rallied to express their outrage over the murder of a local man by a suspect who they said was Tajik. January 2024. Source: Yandex
In your opinion, what are the main changes that have taken place in Russian society since the beginning of the war in Ukraine?

Let’s say straight away: no matter what happens in Russian society, it does not affect the government in any way. The authorities are well isolated from it. They have many ways to not listen to society, to ignore it, to shut it up, to suppress it. Therefore, you can talk as much as you like about fatigue and discontent with what is going on, but citizens have no real opportunity to influence the government. Any protests are punished quite harshly.

For now, all the biggest events in Russia have nothing to do with the war. There was the pogrom targeting Israeli citizens in Makhachkala (see Russia.Post about it here). In Bashkortostan, people came out to support a very specific person who was known not because of his opposition to the war with Ukraine (see Russia.Post). In Yakutia, protests looked like interethnic strife. All this is obviously connected with internal anxiety and frustration, but I would not pass off protest activity in the regions as an increase in political activity.

In general, it is not Russian society that needs to be analyzed, but the Russian government. It started this war, and until it, for its own, internal reasons, decides to end it, nothing will change for the better. And we must clearly understand that we are not at the end of this story; I am not even sure that this is the middle.

People were too quick to explain in the first months of the war that its outcome was obvious. In a historical sense, of course, the aggressor will be condemned and punished. But when that will happen is unclear.

At this point, nothing indicates that the conflict will end quickly and with a victory for Ukraine.

But there is data from sociological surveys that Russians are no longer as jingoistic as before; many want to stop what is going on. Some believe this will work against the regime, as the population will definitively grow tired of a deteriorating quality of life and will no longer have time for “victory” and “demilitarization” [of Ukraine]. What do you think about this?

It seems to me that your question is misguided. Do you have information that on the eve of the war the majority of Russians wanted it? You say: they are tired and do not want it. You think they wanted it [in the first place]? Personally, I have no information that the overwhelming majority of Russian society wanted the war. I think that [over time] support for this adventure has increased a little, since more people are now personally involved in it and have become motivated by personal revenge, self-interest and so on.
The majority of Russians were never enthusiastic about the war, but this did not stop it from starting. And this will not prevent it from continuing.
The protest in Baymak, Bashkortostan. January 2024. Source: Wiki Commons
It will not stop them from carrying out mobilization. It will not stop them from forcing people to fight. Why? Because there is a system of suppression in place.

If mass mobilization starts in Russia, then sure, it will hurt the regime, but I would not particularly count on protests over mobilization.

The economic difficulties are not as critical as economists told us. There has not yet been any collapse of the Russian economy; there is no shortage of goods on the shelves like in the late USSR.

The story of how people are tired of the war also applies to the other side in the conflict, Ukraine. There is a similar fatigue there; there are also problems with the economy. And in a protracted war, the main factor is not which country will get tired of fighting faster, but who has more resources to withstand the stress.

What can you say about Russia’s political system? What transformations have taken place over the last few years?

The political system has become much simpler. But this all started long before February 24, 2022. Firstly, many political processes and institutions were affected by the pandemic. In the name of fighting it, a lot of interesting things were done: the Constitution was changed, and the authorities practiced how to ban things.

But the turning point was the poisoning of Navalny. After the government took to physically eliminating its critics within the country, it is not surprising that it attacked a neighboring country. Yet it is obvious that Navalny’s poisoning did not serve as a signal to the outside world that the Putin regime had radically transformed. Russian delegations continued to participate in the OSCE, the Parliamentary Assembly [of the Council of Europe] and so on. Meanwhile, already in 2021, systematic and relatively mass repressions began, and in fact, many civil society structuresin Russia were crushed. This made any powerful anti-war movement impossible.

I am one of the people who participated in the protest movement in Yekaterinburg in 2019. Of all the activists who stood next to me then, only a couple remain there today. All the others are abroad. And not of their own free will, but [because] intimidation, searches and repression began. And all this happened in 2020-21.
Secondly, in a dictatorship many things are resolved simply.
Previously, every repressive law came as a surprise, but today they are issued in batches. Previously, every prison sentence for an oppositional figure caused a sensation; now, they are handed out left and right.
Vladimir Putin's 2024 presidential campaign logo. Source: Wiki Commons
Previously, one could ponder what the “Kremlin towers” were up to; today, we see all the Kremlin’s men are marching and zigging in formation.

Putin has more power than anyone has had since the days of Stalin: he does what he wants. If he wants, he declares war; if he wants, he punishes; if he wants, he pardons. And all the ministers, governors, deputies there are just cogs in this machine, and they do not decide anything. Any attempt at resistance will lead to arrest. This is what the Russian political system looks like today.

With the upcoming presidential “election” in Russia, vigorous activity is being simulated. What do you think about everything that is going on?

The system really needs elections. Elections in a dictatorship are not about electing someone; they are a plebiscite of trust in Putin. The point of this event for Putin is to mobilize the state apparatus, political structures and society. That is why across Russia every official is working to organize the so-called election. For officials, this is an opportunity to curry favor. An opportunity to make money. But the most important thing is to show loyalty; to be part of something big, headed by Putin personally.

Today, many Russians who oppose or are critical of the government have moved abroad. Some believe that they will return to Russia and even be able to come to power. What do you see when you look at the political activity of emigrants?

Russians are different, just like Ukrainians and Europeans are different. And among those who left, not all left for political reasons. There is, hypothetically speaking, “sausage emigration,” i.e., people who left not for political reasons, but just for a better life. Politics in their case was only a pretext: give us political asylum, we have always been against the regime. And some of them eventually returned. People who thought that if you left Russia and said you did not like Putin and the war, they would immediately present you with a passport and shower you with money – they were predictably disappointed.
Russians against the war in Ukraine. Prague, March 2022. Source: Wiki Commons
Emigration is not the good life; it is difficult, expensive and sometimes depressing. People who were unable to move to rich countries due to a lack of finances got stuck in between, settling in Tbilisi, Yerevan or Istanbul. In Turkey, by the way, the situation is now difficult, with the government actually squeezing out Russians who relocated there. So, many people return; they tell about how they are not welcomed there, they are persecuted, have their bank accounts closed, and so on.

But at the same time, there are emigrants who have adjusted well. Some had a second passport. Some had real estate abroad, purchased in better times. There are people with names, and they have found a comfortable spot – at a university or somewhere else.

With regard to active oppositional activity: it so happened that among those who left there were many active people who, in exile, continue to do what they did in Russia. I can give myself and the editor-in-chief of Republic as an example.
But we must remember that emigration from Russia is not and cannot exist as a monolithic whole. Just as there is no unified opposition.
We see that there are many individuals and groups; people try to do things together and separately; they form coalitions, they dissolve them.

As for taking power, this issue anyway will be resolved not in emigration, but inside Russia, by the people who live there. The idea that the future of Russia can be decided at some gathering of emigrants is self-deception.

At the same time, I am sure that oppositional activity in exile is useful and meaningful. But I believe that we need to do less organizational work, [and instead] write more programs, generate new ideas, thoughts – overall, we need to think about the future, especially in light of the fact that in today’s Russia free discussion is difficult.

Today, can we definitively say that Russian liberalism has failed, or does it still have a shot?

The myth of the “liberal opposition” is the best and most useful thing that the Kremlin propaganda could come up with. They simply labeled all Putin’s critics as liberals.
But, as I just said, Putin’s opposition is very diverse. And to take a step back, where does this idea come from that there are only two paths for Russia: Putin or liberalism?
The opposition to Putin is people who are against Putin. They have very different views and programs. People who take a liberal position, of course, have the right to create their own party, participate in elections, receive some votes and, depending on how many, get a say in governing the country.
But I am absolutely sure that liberals will never get a majority.
Over the past year, it has become fashionable among the opposition to talk about decolonizing Russia, as if today’s Russia is truly an empire in the classical sense. Some even connected the events in Bashkortostan to the process of potential decolonization. What do you think about this?

There are two concepts here that we should not confuse. The problem of decolonization is relevant for the whole world. And it is true that in past centuries some nations took over and suppressed others. And Russia is no exception in this sense. It was an empire, called itself that and expanded territorially as an empire. This left behind some rather unpleasant phenomena, for example poorly hidden racism toward not only neighboring states, but also toward Russia’s own ethnic regions. These are truly problems that need to be addressed. But these are questions of academic decolonization.

But what Twitter calls decolonization is just a bunch of chants about how Russia will fall apart tomorrow for some reason. And it is not clear at all why decolonization should be accompanied by disintegration. Perhaps decolonization will be carried out within the framework of a large state, like Russia.

In addition, it is strange to think that the last word on decolonization belongs to those who are furthest from Russia. I think that this issue needs to be decided in Russia, but only when better conditions appear to do that.

As for the situation in Bashkortostan, it hardly means that this is the beginning of similar events in other ethnic regions. This is easy to understand if we look at the reason for what happened. There is the activist Fail Alsynov. He is a member of the Bashkort movement, which positioned itself as nationalist – this is important. This is their right; I do not think it is bad to be a nationalist. The problem is that there is a specific leader with a specific set of ideas whose followers came out to support him. Bashkortostan is a fairly large region. And naturally, there were several thousand supporters of Alsynov’s ideas.

This was not a protest against Putin and his war; it was a protest in support of their comrade, who, from prison, by the way, is calling on his supporters not to make the situation worse. He understands: the worse things are for the authorities outside prison, the worse he will be treated in prison.

So, if there are such political figures, activists, leaders in other regions, then there may be similar protests there too. But if there are not, then why would such protests erupt there?
Although there is certainly dissatisfaction with centralization – it prevents people from living normally – talk that a broad rebellion against the dictates of the center is brewing in Russia’s regions has no basis in reality.
The process of decolonization is important and necessary. And it will happen someday. But it should take place inside Russia, and not on Twitter. And it will not necessarily be done the way those who today, at the height of the war, are speculating on the topic of defeat and the collapse of Russia, picture it in their fantasies.

Do you not get the feeling that all of us, including experts and journalists, let’s say, of an anti-Putin persuasion, are creating information products for people with our own views and those around us. And that the people from whom we expect changes and reflection do not even know about our existence, and if they did hear something, it was through the prism of propaganda? How can we overcome this information isolation? And should we try?

Every person lives in an echo chamber. Each person filters news from the outside world in such a way as to get only the information that he likes. Nevertheless, you can get the people to hear you, but it requires [having] that goal and resources.

But let’s admit that many mistakes were made at the beginning of the war, especially in agitation. It seemed to many that this was all some kind of terrible misunderstanding and would soon end, that the culprits would be punished. Of course, it is now clear that it was naive to believe so.

And what should those Russians think now whom their anti-war countrymen tried to convince at the beginning of the war that Putin and his army would soon be defeated, and Putin himself would go to The Hague? None of this happened, even two years on. And it is unclear how it will all end. But it turns out that those people lied to them, which means there is even more reason to believe Putin’s propaganda.

And most importantly: you can prove something to someone only if the person is wavering in his views. If a person is a convinced, ideological Putinist and a supporter of this special operation, then it is useless to waste time arguing with him. You just have to come to terms with the fact that Putin’s die-hard supporters are approximately 10-15% – it is the case and will be so.

Let’s wrap up: what should we all, both in Russia and abroad, get ready for?

In my opinion, the intense stage of the Ukraine conflict will last at least another year. Most likely – two years. Maybe three or four. I would be happy to be wrong, but if I were asked for advice, I would recommend planning your future based on that outlook. And not based on the assumption that soon everything will get better and life will return to normal. Unfortunately, nothing will ever return to how it was.
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