When he turned 70, Russian President Vladimir Putin found himself on the brink of a storm of his own making. His army suffers a humiliating defeat in Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of Russians are fleeing his mobilization orders, and his top officials openly insult military leaders.
As operational space dwindles, Putin has repeatedly suggested that nuclear weapons could be relied upon to defend Russia’s interests in Ukraine. This is a dire threat to undermine the insistence of stability that has been repeated throughout 22 years of rule.
“This is a really painful moment for him, but he can’t blame anyone else. He did it himself,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Foundation. “And he’s tackling big, big problems head-on.”
By unleashing a disastrous war in Ukraine, Europe’s largest military conflict since World War II, Putin promised that Russians would trade their relative prosperity and domestic stability for post-Soviet political freedom. You broke the unwritten social contract that you tacitly agreed to give up.
Journalist Mikhail Zigger, who has extensive contacts among the Kremlin elite and has published a best-selling book about Putin and his entourage, notes that the invasion came as a complete surprise not only to the public but to Putin’s closest associates. did.
“They are all shocked,” said Zeiger. “None of them wanted this kind of turnout just because they would lose everything.
Stanislav Berkovsky, a longtime political consultant with extensive contacts among the ruling class, described aggression as a mechanism for “self-destruction of Putin, his regime and the Russian Federation.”
As Russian troops withdraw after being battered by Ukrainian forces armed with Western weapons, Putin plans to annex four regions of Ukraine and deploy up to 300,000 reservists to bolster the crumbling front. raised the stakes by declaring that it would partially mobilize the
The unorganized convocation caused widespread confusion. The military has struggled to provide supplies for recruits, many of whom have been told to buy their own medical kits and other basics, sitting on the floor while waiting to be sent to the front lines. I was left to sleep.
Hundreds of thousands of men fled mobilization and former Soviet neighbors flocked to Russia’s borders as social networks swelled with discussions about how to avoid conscription.
Kolesnikov noted that the mobilization had eroded Putin’s core support base and set the stage for potential political turmoil. It’s impossible to explain to anyone, it’s undermined stability,” he said.
The military retreat also drew public insults directed at military leaders from some of Putin’s top officials. The Kremlin has done nothing to stop the criticism, a signal that Putin can use it to set the stage for major reforms of the top brass and hold them accountable for their defeat.
“Infighting between powerful clans close to Putin could destabilize the system and significantly weaken Putin’s control over the state of the country,” Berkovsky said.
The growing turmoil contrasts dramatically with the image of stability Putin has cultivated since taking office in 2000. Putin has repeatedly described the tumultuous reign of his predecessor Boris Yeltsin as a period of collapse, when tycoons with Kremlin ties stole the state’s wealth. While millions of people are impoverished, and in the West.
Russians have eagerly embraced Putin’s promises to restore their country’s grandeur in an oil-driven economic prosperity, and have been largely indifferent to the Kremlin’s relentless crackdown on political freedom.
Insiders who have studied Putin’s mindset closely say they believe he can still be a winner.
Berkovsky argued that Putin wants to win by using energy as an instrument of pressure. By making deals with his OPEC to reduce the flow of gas to Europe and cut oil production, he was able to push up prices and increase pressure on the United States and its allies.
Putin wants the West to tacitly accept the status quo in Ukraine, resume energy cooperation with Russia, lift the most devastating sanctions and unfreeze Russian assets, Berkovsky said. said.
“He still believes that the situation on the front lines in Ukraine is just one of the key but not the decisive factors and that he will get his way in a long confrontation with the West,” Berkovsky said. rice field.
At the same time, Putin made a blunt attempt to force Ukraine and its Western allies to withdraw by threatening to use “all available means” to defend the newly annexed Ukrainian territory.
The United States and its allies say they take Putin’s threats seriously, but will not yield to what they describe as blackmail to force the West to abandon Ukraine. Ukraine has vowed to continue its counteroffensive.
Kolesnikov said Putin’s nuclear threat reflected growing despair.
“This is the last step for him in the sense that it is a suicidal act,” Kolesnikov said. “The fact that he is ready to take that step means that he is witnessing an even worse dictator than Stalin.”
Some observers have argued that NATO could attack Russia with conventional weapons if Putin pushed the nuclear button.
Berkovsky warned that Putin firmly believed that the United States and its allies would not dare to fight back if Russia used low-yield nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
“If you believe the US is psychologically unprepared for it, you are wrong,” he said.
Zygar likened the Russian leader to a fighter pilot trying to win a dogfight by attacking the enemy head-on and waiting for the enemy to turn away first.
“He thinks he’s brave and believes he has to escalate to the end,” said Zeiger.
He pointed out that Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its current invasion could not have been predicted simply because the experts used rational criteria.
“All previous perceptions of reasonable limits have been proven false,” he said. “There are no such restrictions.”
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https://wgnradio.com/news/international/ap-putins-path-from-pledges-of-stability-to-nuclear-threats/ Putin’s Path: From Stability Pledge to Nuclear Threat WGN Radio 720