Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Is Putin Now Afraid?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 11 – Vladimir Putin’s increasingly erratic and apparently self-destructive actions, including most recently his decisions to burn embargoed food at the border and to block any opposition candidates in regional elections has prompted two of Russia’s most prominent analysts to suggest that he is acting out of fear for his position.

            In a comment to Kyiv’s Channel 5, Andrey Piontkovsky says that the situation in the Kremlin is now “close to panic” because “the new Western sanctions his in the first instance the Russian hierarchy” and ordinary Russians are angry about price rises prompted by Putin’s countersanctions (5.ua/svit/Rosiiski-kontrsanktsii-biut-po-kysheniakh-moskvychiv-bo-80-kharchiv-u-Moskvi-importovani--zhurnalist-89939.html).

            A sign of this fear, he adds, is that “even [government] propaganda is not supporting the destruction of foodstuffs very actively.” That is because people would be offended. And consequently, he suggests as he has elsewhere that those around Putin are increasingly thinking about removing him if they cannot change his direction.

            Also today, Liliya Shevtsova says that the Kremlin is showing “fear” by its “shift in the Duma elections, its refusal to allow opposition participation in regional elections, the destruction of the Constitution, the creation of a ‘legal’ basis for arbitrary action, the creation of enemies for putting Russia under martial law and the blackmail of the rest of the world” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=55C99BB1D4210).

            And she asks why many Russian commentators instead of offering an alternative to Putin are instead explaining what he is doing and thus implicitly encouraging people to simply wait him out. Why should anyone be helping Putin and his regime “to overcome its fear?”  That is more than a simple error; it is a fundamental mistake.

            Given Putin’s actions, there is plenty of reason to think he has to be worried about how those around him will act and even whether the Russian people will finally have their full of him. At the same time, it is important to keep in mind what may be an even more disturbing possibility.

            It is entirely possible that Putin himself may benefit if people think he is afraid because then, like a cornered rat, there is nothing he might not do. And that in turn could lead some both inside Russia and abroad to think about how to make him less afraid. In short, promoting the idea that he is afraid could be yet another way he will seek to advance his interests.

            As an increasingly illegitimate leader of an increasingly outlaw regime, Putin should be afraid; but if he is, others should not be afraid of that fact. They should recognize that such feelings are the entirely natural outcome of Putin’s aggression against Georgia, Ukraine, and the Russian people and his threats to Russians and the rest of the world.

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