Staunton, Sept. 14 – Criticism of Putin’s war in Ukraine from those who don’t want to end the war but rather to expand it has become an increasing feature of Russian public life in the last few weeks, but two prominent Moscow commentators suggest that while it is a problem for Putin, it does not yet represent a threat to his rule.
Leonid Nevzlin says that Putin has focused on destroying the liberal opposition but failed to note that he should have shown more concern about those who are on the other side and who want a more aggressive foreign policy an even tougher regime at home than he has yet offered (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=63216A121370B§ion_id=50A6C962A3D7C).
Their criticism of the war effort in the wake of the defeats of the Russian army in Ukraine suggest that “Putin is losing one of his chief social supports,” but “up to now, he hasn’t been especially concerned” because he is “certain that the siloviki are loyal to him” and that “no one can seriously threaten his power.”
For the present and unless the siloviki turn against him, Putin is probably right; but things could change quickly and radically if Russian soldiers returning from Ukraine become his opponents as well and if their arguments about what is happening on the front lines are taken up by others.
According to Nevzlin, Putin may continue to lie and hope for the best, he may choose to change sides and seek to win his opponents on the right by adopting their radical positions, or he may begin to repress them the way he has been repressing his critics on the left. At the moment, it is not clear which way he will go.
A second commentator, Kirill Rogov, says that in his view, the critics from the right “do not pose any immediate threat to the Kremlin.” Their social base is small – about 25 percent of the population -- and has little chance of growing. And it won’t as long as there is no mass mobilization (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=63216FC960FBE§ion_id=50A6C962A3D7C).
Putin will thus do what he can to ensure that for most Russians, the rational choice is to support him and not the super patriots because for them “the war is still far away, but repression [against those who question it] is very near.” The calls of the right for more would change that and destabilize things.
The big question now, Rogov says, is not how Putin, those near him or the Russian people view the situation, but rather how soldiers in the field do. If they conclude that the current policy is a failure and makes it more likely they will die than continue to earn bonuses, they will desert the Kremlin and that could become a real threat to Putin.