Putin will stop only where he is stopped. This precise saying found its visual confirmation last week, when Russia had to back down on leaving the  agreement on the safe passage of grain from Ukrainian ports.

The Russian Federation is losing its monopoly on violent actions against its own citizens, the signs of the crisis of the elites are appearing more and more clearly, prominently and, most importantly, publicly.

These two topics make up this weekly analysis by experts of the Information Defence project, as published below.

Putin Will Only Stop Where he is Stopped

The Ukrainian authorities have since 2014 been proving to their Western partners that Putin only understands the language of force, and he will only stop where either diplomats or the military stop him.

Up until Feb, 24, 2022, Ukraine’s Western partners regarded this approach a relapse of the Cold War and pursued a policy of appeasement. The price that Ukraine paid for it before the start of the full-scale Russian aggression is known – Russia annexed Crimea, while the military conflict in the Donbas region inspired by the Kremlin and the Russian-supported self-appointed terrorist “LDPR”, aka “Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics,” took place on the territory of our country.

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The beginning of full-scale Russian aggression changed a lot in the worldview held by the leaders of Western democracies. A lot, but not all, and not all at once. The main reasons for these changes were not diplomats and politicians, but the military of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, who have repeatedly forced Putin to make, as he called them, “goodwill gestures”, as was the case near Kyiv, Kharkiv Region, and Zmiyiny Island.

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And yet, despite such forced radical decisions regarding the liberation of temporarily- occupied Ukrainian territories, the Russian dictator has managed to keep a good face for a long time while playing a bad game.

The situation changed radically last week. After the brilliant Ukrainian operation involving surface drones and drones in the Sevastopol Bay, when several Russian warships were damaged, including the next flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, the Admiral Makarov, Putin decided to demonstratively withdraw from the grain agreement under contrived pretexts.

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Blackmail tactics are very probably in the blood of the Russian authorities. But it was not the first time that they did not work, and Putin received a harsh rebuff not only on the battlefield in Ukraine, not only from Ukrainian diplomats, but also from those politicians whom he considered almost his partners. Turkey and Ukraine announced in a synchronised and coordinated manner that ships carrying  Ukrainian grain under the protection of Turkish ships would pass through the agreed maritime corridor.

Russia was faced with a choice of two alternatives, each of which only worsened its geopolitical and military position.

The first alternative, which consisted of attacking and detaining caravans carrying Ukrainian grain, led to an inevitable escalation of the conflict and a direct military confrontation with Turkey, a NATO member.

Other under-the-counter diplomatic combinations involving the participation of world-renowned mediator, Turkish President Erdoğan, also collapsed.  Additionally, the hopes of holding peace negotiations that would be at least somewhat successful for Russia became more and more illusory.

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The second alternative involved rejecting the Russian dictator’s own words and continuing to participate in the grain agreement. It is clear that this also had, to be frank, not very good consequences for Putin’s regime.

Russian propaganda has recently not kept up with the machinations of the Kremlin’s policy. This propaganda was never able to clearly explain to Russian subjects the expediency of “gestures of goodwill.” And cheering patriots are already tired of calling on Putin to increase the level of aggression against Ukraine.

In the global geopolitical game, Putin has, not for the first time, publicly demonstrated his weakness and backed down. By the way, according to the testimony of German Field Marshal Guderian, if the French had repelled the German troops that invaded the demilitarized Ruhr area in 1936, it would have led to the collapse of Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

Another stone has been laid in the defeat of Putin’s regime: further demilitarization and denuclearization of Russia. There is no doubt there will be victory, and not in the long term, but in the medium term.

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The Crisis of the Russian Elites is Becoming Public

As a rule, authoritarianism rests on the figure of the leader, who is both a balance of influence and a restraining element for various elite groups, and all intra-elite conflicts are resolved quietly and away from public gaze. And only in the event of their extreme aggravation, the population may be surprised to learn that the best friend of Soviet pioneers is a spy who worked for almost all the world’s intelligence agencies.

The Russian authoritarian regime led by Putin had, until recently, functioned almost according to the classic scenario. But the Russian-Ukrainian war has seriously exacerbated the contradictions between different groups of influence of the political class, and the conflict has become public.

In the fight against Russian generals, people who until recently it was rather difficult to imagine together – Putin’s cook and founder-owner of the Wagner private military company, Evgeny Prigozhin, and the head of Russia’s Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, were united by at least two things.

First, an attempt at any cost to find a scapegoat for Russia’s actual defeat,  to shift all the blame to him, so deflecting a public blow from Putin.

Today, more and more traditional questions are arising in Russian society: who’s to blame for the failures in Ukraine and what should be done? Let these questions not be as acute as we Ukrainians would like. But the Russians are already looking for the culprit with great zeal.

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The most acceptable and understandable target for this were Russian generals. Prigozhin and Kadyrov launched a simultaneous information attack on Colonel-General Lapin, accusing him of surrendering  Lyman in Donetsk Region.

Putin was forced to violate the unwritten taboo that does not permit internal conflicts between the elites to become public, and to remove Lapin from office. He personally, as well as propagandist patriots, as well as ordinary citizens, needed a victim, and preferably more than one.

This search for the guilty will continue. And we will witness how, for the sake of his salvation, Putin will sacrifice one more general or minister.

Second, without any doubt, the temporary alliance between Prigozhin and Kadyrov is based on the growing power influence of these figures in Russian politics, since both have private armies: Wagner and the Chechen units of the Russian Guard.

A country is a country because, among other things, it has a monopoly on the use of force and legitimate violence against its own citizens. But the Russian nation is gradually losing this monopoly.

Prigozhin visits penal colonies and recruits convicts for the Wagner prison. Rumors are spreading in the information space that the Wagnerites are being trained to carry out military operations in Moscow, allegedly with the aim of suppressing speeches given by the military.

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In general terms, Chechnya is a special enclave of Russia, and Kadyrov has long been accused of murdering Putin’s political opponents, including Boris Nemtsov.

The loss of the monopoly on violence is destroying the Russian nation, which is increasingly turning into Putin’s own personal property, contributing to the disintegration of the Russian federation into separate territories. Russia seems to be going back 500 years, to the time of Ivan the Terrible, when the oprichnina almost destroyed it.

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Crisis phenomena are increasingly gaining momentum, becoming public and irreversible.

This, moreover, will lead to the inevitable collapse of Putin’s regime, which will be caused primarily by the victories won by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Ihor Zhdanov is a co-founder of the Open Policy Foundation, a Non-Government Organization (NGO) in Ukraine.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

 

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