Vladimir Putin rarely gives interviews, and there is great uncertainty about who he is plotting further development of the war with. As the 69-year-old legend tries to demonstrate that the war in Ukraine is going as planned, critical voices are increasingly asking questions about how successful the war has actually been.
Putin did not admit defeat
– Putin will not make any concessions on losses or weaknesses in the war against Ukraine. No matter what actually happens on the field, he will say that they are winning in all fields. Jan Holland Modlari, political science professor at the University of Oslo, says Putin will never admit defeat.
After reclaiming thousands of square kilometers and several towns and cities, Ukraine appears to have the initiative on the battlefield. Some Ukrainian officials are already talking about success as being within reach.
The Kremlin sets the agenda itself
But criticism of Russia is growing stronger against the rhetoric and actual events of the war.
– If someone starts criticizing Putin now, this makes it possible for other critics to sign up. I’m sure Putin will turn his attention in some other direction. He says there is no free press in Russia, so the regime can set an agenda that suits them best.
Putin faces opposition from many sides. Both government members, leading commentators and newspapers are now critical of the war in Ukraine. The same thing happened to Russian state television NTV and Rossija 1, i.e. to his own followers.
– Criticisms in pro-regime media are sensational. It tells us that one person at the top of the power base in the Kremlin does not have total control. Let’s see how they respond to this criticism later. We can’t rule out the fall of the regime, but Putin has the physical power, so he’ll have no problem overturning this if he wants to, he says.
Putin moderates criticism
Criticism comes on state television channels, and journalists are questioned but not jailed, breaking with Vladimir Putin’s previous practice.
– This is interesting, and shows that Putin wants this criticism to reach the public. One possibility is that they will release some pressure from critics, and this should also be seen in the context of the fact that they cannot control everything that is written on social media, says Russia researcher and director Ivor B. Newman says. Research institute Fridtjof Nansens Institute (FNI).
– Will criticism of Putin’s failed war against Ukraine lead to his downfall? How critical can he be?
– No one can answer this. But if something like this happens, we can assume it will happen soon. But no one knows if there is someone in the Kremlin who can seize power. Overall, Modlary says, we know far less about who the actors are now than we did during the Cold War.
Ivor B. says the picture is much less clear now than it was during the Cold War. Newman believes.
– Then you had the Politburo (the highest organ of the Communist Party) with clear authority structures. He says it is very uncertain who is closest to him in the Kremlin and who will be his ultimate successor.
In the past, he has been very close to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s Security Council Chairman Nikolai Patrushev, and Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, SVR.
Putin’s middle-aged men
– Nikolai Patrushev seems to me a possible number two in the Kremlin. However, we see that Putin has made the classic mistake of relating to his own age group. If Putin loses power, only well-developed men with mental and physical health problems can take over. Ivor B says he didn’t recruit younger people who could stand for a long-term solution. Newman.
Janne Haaland Matlary believes we are now entering a protracted conflict with Ukraine and the West, thanks to a corrupt Russian military feeding Moscow with disinformation.
Russian soldiers flee
– We see Russian demoralized soldiers fleeing in panic or surrender. Although the Ukrainian military has now made progress, there is still a long way to go before all of Ukraine is liberated. They can protect areas over time, says Modlary.
He emphasizes that in a military offensive it is necessary for the troops to rest every 4-5 days and that they should not advance rapidly unless sufficient fresh troops are replenished to defend the territory captured in the offensive.
– We must also believe in Russian counterattacks, today there were reports of airstrikes. But the losses over the past few days are still staggering, says Modlary.
Putin has yet to choose to carry out a full mobilization of Russia. Exiting Ukraine is very dangerous because both the military and the people are expecting some kind of success.
– The irony is that if Russia loses a conventional war, they have chemical weapons and nuclear weapons. We don’t know if they will use these weapons, they have threatened to do so in the past, such as when Sweden and Finland said they would join NATO. At the time, there were empty threats, he says.
She did not think they would use these weapons, as such use would lead to NATO intervention.
– The irony is that Putin has nothing to lose if he loses – so what will he do? Even if the probability of such use is not high, the risk is there, says Modlary.
-In the early stages of the war, you said it was important to give Putin a chance to back down without losing too much face. How do you see that situation now?
– Now that we’ve moved past this consideration – Putin is unlikely to re-engage with the West. Massacres and all other war crimes cannot be trusted to him in any treaty.
What is Putin doing?
– But Ukraine will have to deal with Putin at some point. And the West will have to deal with Russia at all times in the future – regardless of the form of government. And yet there is a real dilemma: If Putin has nothing to lose, what is he doing?
– This is a risk that increases with the magnitude of his losses – if he loses on the battlefield, this must be compensated for in other ways – and what that means for him, Modlary asks rhetorically.
– What options does Putin have at this stage of the war?
– He can overrule criticism, continue the war with heavy use of aircraft and missiles, drag out the war as long as possible when the effect of closed gas pipelines hits Europe in winter. I think the summation war is still a long way off, says Janne Holland Modlary.
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