Monday, August 3, 2020

Is Putin’s Luck Finally Running Out? Zhelenin Asks

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 1 – For most of his career, Vladimir Putin has been remarkably successful either as a result of his own cleverness, the weakness of his opposite numbers or simply good luck. But in recent months, he has suffered one failure after another, raising the possibility that his luck is running out, Aleksandr Zhelenin suggests.

And even if one does not believe in luck, others do; and just as the suggestion  that one triumph after another is the result of something like that can help build one’s support and the expectations for the future, so too one failure after another can undermine such support and expectations and even become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

2020 began with what appeared to be another Putin success, but that apparent success proved not only hollow but ultimately a failure, Zhelenin says. Yes, Putin pushed through the constitutional changes he wanted to allow him to remain in power forever; but in doing so, he showed just how meaningless the constitution is (

Worse, he added to its language provisions which by their obscurantism further alienated the population and suggested to many that those provisions said more about him and where he wanted to take the country than anything else he had done.  Still, Putin might have pulled through had two additional misfortunes not occurred.

One, the collapse of oil prices, he was in part responsible for; the other, the pandemic, he was not. But his failure to deal with either revealed weaknesses about his person and his system that had never been so obvious before.  And his foreign policy moves in Syria and Libya also were more failures than successes as far as most Russians were concerned.

It was inevitable, the Rosbalt commentator says, that all this could lead to political problems. And that has happened as a result of the protests in Khabarovsk following Putin’s removal of a popular governor, something that allowed the anger many there and elsewhere felt to overflow.

Putin’s actions in the case of Khabarovsk governor Sergey Furgal recall the Beilis case of a century ago. “The parallel is not only that Furgal has also been accused of murders but also that in the first and the second case, the powers that be were directly involved and the chief players did not recognize the underlying forces they by their actions put in play.

Beilis, it is said, didn’t understand that the ridiculous accusation of ritual murder lodged against him helped reveal and exacerbate a battle between “two Russias,” “the progressive and democratic one” and “the reactionary and obscurantist one.” Today, Furgal is in the same position, and Putin has suffered another defeat no matter how the Khabarovsk events play out.

“The Khabarovsk events have acquired the character of an anti-Moscow protest and this means they have become an anti-system challenge and in this sense, the most serious domestic political test of the Kremlin after the end of the second Chechen war,” Zhelenin continues.
“And this crisis is still far from being over.”

But even as that is playing out, Putin has been involved in another failure, the case of the Wagnerites in Belarus. No matter how that ends, it represents yet another case where Putin, supposedly the master tactician and strategist, has acted in ways that are tactically inept and strategically disastrous.

And even the Kremlin’s response to the environmental catastrophes in Norilsk and Siberia provide yet another example of failures without the hope of improvement. No bright future is now on view however much Putin might like Russians to believe in it. And after the vacation is over and the pandemic returns, even fewer will.

The epidemiological and economic crises will certainly intensify raising new questions about whether Putin’s luck has run out, and those questions will produce a political crisis, however much he wants to avoid it and however serious that may be for the future of the Russian Federation.

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