Staunton, December 19 – A close reading of Vladimir Putin’s press conference suggests that he has “three main nightmares,” Andrey Illarionov says. The Kremlin leader fears above all that Saakashvili will succeed in Ukraine, that Russians will use their rights to protest, and that Warsaw will press its investigation into the crash that killed President Lech Kaczyński in 2010.
First of all, Putin is clearly afraid, the Russian analyst says, that Mikhail Saakashvili will manage to oust the Kyiv regime that the Kremlin leader despite all he says against it finds completely suitable for his purposes and thus transform the Ukrainian-Russian conflict in ways that will work against Moscow (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A378EE86F100).
In the past, Saakashvili has suggested that Putin devotes particular attention to himself, claims that represent a certain exaggeration, he continues. But in his press conference, Putin mentioned Saakashvili six times, more than anyone else including Donald Trump, an indication that the former Georgian president is much on his mind.
But what is especially striking, Illarionov says, is that Putin criticized Saakashvili for his attacks on the Ukrainian people and implicitly urged Kyiv to “put an end” to the Georgian politicians. One would have thought that Putin would be pleased that Saakashvili has been causing so much trouble for Kyiv, whose regime Putin has cast doubt on its right to exist.
However, in this case, the Kremlin leader became its implicit defender, arguing that Saakashvili is a threat and that he must be stopped, clearly because if the Georgian politician succeeded, the situation in Kyiv would change and in ways that would undercut the special operation Putin has been running there for some years.
Second, in language more passionate than he has displayed on this issue in the past, Putin indicated that he very much fears that if Russians are ever allowed to exercise the rights they are guaranteed under the Constitution that will lead to a return to anarchy of the kind Russia experienced in the 1990s.
Perhaps his questioner wants to “return all that,” Putin suggested, adding that he is “certain that the absolute and overwhelming majority of the citizens of Russia do not want this and will not permit it.” And he will act in their interests, even if that means the Russian authorities must violate or ignore the country’s constitution.
That he views this as such a threat suggests he is more worried about this possibility than many think, Illarionov implies.
And third, and especially concerning to the Kremlin leader, is the possibility that Warsaw will continue its investigation into the downing of a Polish plane in which the former president of that country was killed. Putin gave answers to three questions on this issue that suggest just how worried he now is.
He acknowledged that he was involved with the Russian special services when the plane went down, thus implicitly acknowledging that they and even he could have been involved, possibilities that Putin and his regime have always excluded in the past. And that, Illarionov says, is striking.
“Putin first of all didn’t even try to reject the possibility of the involvement of the Russian special services in this terrorist act and secondly offered an answer relative to his own involvement in the organization of the catastrophe which does not withstand any criticism” by those who know the case.
Still more indicative, the Russian analyst says, was Putin’s second answer. “For the first time, Putin publicly admitted that the possibility of an explosion on board the presidential aircraft.” That is something the Russian side has always denied, but now Putin by his remarks has retreated to a new line of defense.
And in his third response, Putin went even further in attracting attention to his possible role in this terrorist act, Illarionov says: he did not exclude Russian participation but said that Poles should think seriously about continuing the investigation lest it undermine Polish-Russian relations, something far more important that talking about the crash of a plane.
This is the kind of defense Putin uses when he is caught out in something: insisting that whatever happened, no one should fixate on it because it would worsen Russian relations with that country. But for those who care about the truth and about justice, such a rhetorical shift may guarantee that Putin’s third nightmare will come true even before the other two.