Staunton, April 29 – A key to understanding Vladimir Putin and his regime is that the Kremlin leader rarely says that he is good, Ilya Ponomarev says. Instead, he says that all the others abroad are “shits.” On the one hand, “if all others are that, then what difference do things” in Russia matter? And on the other, it leads Putin to try to make things worse in other countries.
Ponomarev, a Russian opposition politician who now lives in exile in Ukraine, says that explains why Putin interferes in other countries: he is doing so to ensure they look bad to Russians and thus he by contrast looks if not good at least better. But that impulse carries the risk Moscow often makes mistakes that backfire (afterempire.info/2019/04/29/ponomarev-kreml-2/).
But this vision of the world often leads the Kremlin to miscalculate as it has in the Ukrainian elections where it expected Poroshenko to win or at least finish close enough to create confusion and unrest in the wake of the vote. The massive vote for Zelensky that it didn’t expect has thus thrown the Russian political technologists into confusion.
Moscow faces a young leader who is less predictable and ultimately less deferential than Poroshenko; and consequently, Russian policy makers are going to have to think long and hard about how to deal with someone who is not pro-Russian whatever they may have hoped and who is serious about protecting his country and himself.
What has happened in Ukraine may have an even larger echo in the future than it does so. Some opposition groups in Belarus and Kazakhstan, for example, are now looking for “their own” Zelenskys (svaboda.org/a/29906276.html, charter97.org/ru/news/2019/4/29/332283/ and fergana.agency/articles/106887/). It is not unthinkable that some Russians may do the same.