Staunton, November 19 – The flip side of Vladimir Putin’s willingness or being forced to accept a compromise on the Karabakh dispute, Sergey Shelin says, is that he is becoming more uncompromising and repressive at home, a political strategy that represents a major shift from one in which he was being more aggressive in both.
How long this new political arrangement can last, the Rosbalt commentator says, is very much an open question because at least some Russians who had been willing to accept repression at home if they saw Russia “rising from its knees” abroad may be less willing if they see the Kremlin behaving in a more concessionary fashion abroad (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2020/11/20/1874105.html).
And to the extent that such Russians conclude that Putin has been pressured by others such as Azerbaijan and Turkey to make concessions, he suggests, they may decide that the best way to secure equivalent concessions at home is to try to force the issue by mass protests or other forms of dissent.
A month ago, Shelin argued that Putin found himself trapped in five problems of his own making and was seeking ways out (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2020/10/16/1868514.html, discussed at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/10/putin-increasingly-falling-into-traps.html). Now, the commentator suggests the Kremlin has adopted five tactics to do so. They are:
1. Dramatically increase repression at home by banning ever more things,
2. Take steps to ensure that there won’t any more Navalny’s by closing loopholes about non-registration that the opposition had used,
3. Reducing talk of its triumphs abroad lest Russians recognize that there are ever fewer of them and that even the triumphs entail costs and risks,
4. Avoid taking any responsibility for the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences,
5. And show itself more willing to compromise with others as has just happened in the Caucasus with Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Armenia failed to recognize that Moscow was making this turn and assumed Russia would as it had always implied ensure that the stalemate in Karabakh continued, something that worked to Yerevan’s benefit. And consequently, the Armenian side has suffered a major defeat because it has discovered that Moscow won’t live up to what Yerevan thought were promises.
Hence the outcome in the southern Caucasus. But what really matters given this shift is how other countries will read this new Russian approach and perhaps even more how willing Russians will be to accept this combination which offers them far less psychological reward than what they had been getting.