Friday, April 21, 2023

Kremlin Can Mobilize the Population Far Less than It had Imagined, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 17 – Many people in the Kremlin and elsewhere expected that the propaganda machine of the Putin regime would succeed in transforming the special military operation in Ukraine into a new patriotic war, but that has not happened, Vladimir Pastukhov says, highlighting a serious limit on the Kremlin’s freedom of action.

            In Russia today, the London-based Russian commentator says, the population strives “to pretend that the war does not exist and seeks to continue to live according to its ‘peacetime’ agenda.” Only a few fanatics and television addicts adopts a different position (

            As a result, plans to transform the fighting in Ukraine into “a patriotic war” were drowned by “mass indifference to the declared goals of the war and the unwillingness to personally participate in it or even more to die for these incomprehensible goals.” Few Russians are ready for that.

            That has forced the Kremlin to recognize both the limits of propaganda as a tool of rule and the limits of its ability to change the population. Instead, it has had to “adapt to what it has lest it lose touch with ‘the deep people’ on whom it relies. As a result, the war quickly became a special operation again.”

            To be sure, Pastukhov says, “propaganda can be effective within a certain range, one set by history. If the country’s leaders seek to go beyond this range, then ‘the deep people’ view them as ‘besieged’” and turn away. “Today’s willingness does not include a massive desire “to die for a better life for those who sit in the Kremlin.”

            Instead, “the people themselves want to live well; and therefore, they aren’t ready to wage “a patriotic war.” “War is war,” the commentator says; “but dinner should be on schedule. This is a significant limitation on the kremlin dreamers who talk about a final battle between good (themselves) and evil (the West).”

            That constitutes a serious vulnerability of the Putin system: “the population is prepared for only a small deterioration in living conditions as a result of the war but it is not at all ready to exchange its normal life for a war, at least not yet.” And that acts as “a general limitation on Putin, Dugin and their ilk.

            And that in turn means, Pastukhov says, that even “very small changes in lifestyles can lead to a revolutionary upheaval both to the war in general and to Putin who has become the physical embodiment of this war” precisely because “modern Russia continues to be more of a Brezhnev-type society than a Stalinist one,” all the Putin regime’s efforts notwithstanding.

            Pastukhov concludes his essay with an anecdote about a Russian peasant who did not drink, smoke or pursue women. Asked how he managed to relax, the peasant replied that he never tensed up. Russians today resemble him: they aren’t prepared to “tense up” and anyone who tries to make them do so risks being ousted from any position of power.

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