Putin - the domestic politics side of the war

We’ve had speculation in bits and pieces in some of the other threads about Putin and domestic Russian politics; I thought it might be good to have one that focuses just on that issue: how is the war going to affect Putin and domestic Russian politics?

This was the article that made me think about it:

If it’s true that Putin has put one of his top political allies under house arrest, that may be a significant glimpse into what’s going on behind the scenes.

Putin seems to have all of the political opposition under stringent control, and is vetting his allies for their fealty. There may be some significant opposition from the intelligence apparatus and particular the FSB who doesn’t have the wool pulled over their eyes about the progression and effects of the war but there doesn’t seem to be any indication that an actual coup is in the offing. Putin’s real problem is economics; the sanctions on oil and gas exports will have an effect eventually but even in the near term this has put Russia’s delicate consumer economy in quite a spiral, and losing access to Western goods and services that Russia is poorly constituted to provide with domestic sources.

This, combined with the story that Ukrainian intelligence is taking pictures of dead conscripts and using facial recognition systems to identify them and contact their mothers is going to make for some pretty uncomfortable domestic strife, and while it isn’t as if there is any question that Putin will be ‘victorious’ in the 2024 presidential election (even if the elections were ‘free and fair’ he’s eliminated all real competition by a combination of intimidation, jailing opponents, and having them poisoned or defenestrated) it can be pretty uncomfortable to have the babushka contingent weighing curses on you.

Even if someone does succeed Putin by pen or poison, there is no guarantee that they will be a more liberal or rational leader. In fact, if someone is going to depose Putin, odds are that it will be one of the even more radical Russian nationalists who have cozied up to him and are encouraging him to ignore the complains by the oligarchs he’s shafted and keep using the barely veiled threats of nuclear holocaust to keep NATO nations at bay.

Stranger

I thought I saw on a tweet somewhere that the commander of the Black Sea fleet has been arrested, but I’ve not found a reliable source; all seems rather speculative at this point.

It’s hard to see what countervailing forces could exist or organise themselves. “Ordinary” opposition is sidelined/eliminated as soon as it looks significant enough, and in his own entourage it’s not as if there’s an obvious Politburo-equivalent that could produce a convincing alternative leadership and significant change of line.

Bumping this thread as a political sidebar to the war thread.

Is political change starting?

More municipal deputies calling for Putin’s ouster, according to the guardian’s live daily feed.

Here’s a reprint by Yahoo of an interesting article from the NYT:

Spéculative, but suggests increasing political division in Moscow and Russia.

A pro Russian Twitter account that I follow has this to say.

And another article from Politico, with interesting comments from Russian politicians. So far, the comments mainly seem to be directed at the military planning, but some critiques of Putin himself, notably about the fireworks in Moscow the very night that the Russian forces were retreating.

For now, their anger is aimed exclusively at Russia’s senior military command, but Putin still needs to proceed with caution in the face of this unusual crackle of dissent. If he fails to react to the complaints against his commanders, political pressure could mount on his autocratic regime.

The celebrations now look like a political mistake. An equivalent of a feast in time of plague. It is clear that they [the Moscow authorities] did not want to cancel them, in order not to cause panic,” said the politician, who in previous years vigorously backed the separatist movement in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. “But the participation of the president speaks even more about the confusion of the authorities.”

He also said that the fireworks in Moscow “on the tragic day of a heavy military defeat for Russia” should have been canceled by the authorities, pointing to possible harm to Putin’s reputation in the eyes of his electorate. “The government should not celebrate when people are grieving.”

Also this comment on the military:

Alexei Chadayev, a political think-tanker loyal to the Kremlin, believes that the Russian army “as a whole, as a structure, in its current form — to put it mildly — has limited suitability for modern warfare.”

The key defects lie not in the ability to gather manpower, supply, weapons, and not even in management as such, but in the level of strategic thinking, the quality of understanding of the rhythm and logic of the confrontation,” he said on Saturday, commenting on Russia’s rout.

I’ve read that the average Russian isn’t really feeling the impact of economic sanctions yet. If so, that probably plays a big role.

The resilience of the Russian economy has been unexpected. I certainly didn’t forsee it. They don’t seem to have been hurt in Consumer products at all.

I do wonder if this might potentially be seen as telegraphing a future scapegoating of the military leadership, and if this might in turn lead to the military leadership deciding that they’re not willing to take the blame for Putin’s bungling of this.

Cronies dying from falling out hospital windows isn’t what happens when you’re in tight control of everything. It’s what happens when you’ve lost tight control, and are trying to get it back.

Here’s an interesting couple of articles about the effect of the war on popular support for Russia in Ukraine. General thrust of the two articles is that Putin’s war has had exactly the opposite political effect he was planning, by solidifying and strengthening Ukrainian nationalism, and greatly reducing previous good-will towards Russia amongst Ukrainians.

If that’s what passes for sane Russian commentary these days I don’t see much prospect for Russia becoming a member of the global community in good standing any time soon. Listened to his “Kharkiv Sitrep” report and learned:

  1. The Russians had hardly any troops in the area. They retreated mostly in good order and suffered minimal losses.
  2. The Ukrainian military effort is being run by NATO.
  3. The Ukrainian military is made up of terrorists “like ISIS but with 20 million people and the full support of NATO.”
  4. Russian forces have been refraining from attacking civilian targets to the point that it has severely hampered their effectiveness, which Ukrainians indiscriminately shell refugees etc.

It’s entirely likely that his description of Russian attitudes towards Putin is accurate, but that just means the most of the country has drunk the kool-aid and there’s little to no hope of any sort of reasonable engagement with them.

I’ve just been watching an interview with this oppositionist on the main German TV streaming app (only the video disappeared halfway through, make of that what you will):

Putin’s international “friends” appear to be starting, in a very gentle way, to put pressure on him:

He’s now quoted as saying he’s “in no hurry”. This might mean just that, or of course that he knows his forces are in schtuck. Just as his remark that he’s only using contract soldiers might mean a threat to mobilise regulars, or that he knows that might cause more trouble than it’s worth. Is he the Kerensky de nos jours?

Wow, so invading a country and indiscriminately shelling civilian targets when you can’t accomplish any actual military goals tends to shift opinions in that country against you? No wonder people say that geopolitics is complicated… Nobody could have possibly anticipated that effect!

I can imagine Putin’s in no hurry. He can send 5000 young Russians to their death each month, order ukarine hospitals, schools and apartments to be shelled and and it would not cause him to lose a moment’s sleep.

I know, right? How could the smart fellas in the Kremlin have been expected to figure that out before launching a war.