Staunton, August 9 – Three times in the past, Vladimir Putin has used war to boost his popularity – in Chechnya in 1999, in Georgia in 2008, and in Ukraine since 2014 – but he doesn’t have any good options to repeat this a fourth time, even by expanding his aggression in Ukraine let alone in Belarus or Kazakhstan, according to Dmitry Oreshkin.
“In Ukraine,” the Moscow analyst says, “pro-Russian force resources are exhausted. Belarus and Kazakhstan are our allies, and a small victorious war with them would look extremely strange. The same thing is true about the Syrian war which in Russia society has generated more anger than satisfaction” (business-gazeta.ru/article/353809).
That means, he continues, that Putin will conduct his re-election campaign on an “inertia,” trying to avoid losing his current level of support but not coming up with anything that could really boost it. The only real possibility for that would be to organize a coup against him as Erdogan did in Turkey and then present himself as the savior of Russia once again.
Putin has little or no chance to reinvent himself: he has been in power too long and his style and image are fixed in Russian minds. Russia needs a new image of the future, and Putin is not too old to come up with one, but he is trapped by his entourage which doesn’t want change and is clearly tired. Moreover, few would believe any new model he might propose.
Putin must be “an eagle or appear to be an eagle,” to update Pushkin’s line, Oreshkin says, “because if Putin ceases to be an eagle, then he will become a Brezhnev.”
Putin could of course refuse to run, but those around him don’t want that because they consider all the possible alternatives as dangerous risks of change that would work against them. And Putin who trusts no one would have to trust his replacement not to move against them or him personally. That is very unlikely, and Oreshkin says he is confident Putin will run.
To go quietly as Yeltsin did would be “a catastrophe” for someone like Putin.
He might leave in 2024 but he isn’t thinking that far ahead. For him and the oligarchs, “it is important to preserve power for the next six years.” Beyond that, neither he nor they can now think.
There is one wild card, however. Putin could “uncover some internal conspiracy,” use it to frighten people and generate support for himself in that way much as Turkish President Recep Erdogan did. To do so, however, would require “organizing an internal enemy” as least as threatening as the Chechen separatists.”
And while this is unlikely, Oreshkin concludes, “it is not excluded that something like this will be done in the