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Currently, millions of people are wondering if the war in Ukraine will end or if Vladimir Putin will be removed from the leadership of Russia. However, the international press believes that the Russian president will not be removed from power too easily.
In the imaginary context, a Vladimir Putin suddenly declaring the end of the war in Ukraine and the withdrawal of his troops, or a Russia without Putin, revising its policy, ending the war and beginning to consolidate relations with Ukraine and the West on a new peaceful basis ?, is a rhetorical question.
The answer is difficult to give. The war in Ukraine is largely the result of Putin’s personal obsession, and it is unlikely that he will willingly agree to end it. Which makes the other possibility valid: a Russia without Putin, hoping to become a peaceful country, eager for a change of power.
But even that seems pretty unlikely. After six months of war, Putin’s power appears to be no less solid than it was in peacetime. The percentages of support for him are high, and in Russia there is not even a single opponent whose voice can be heard.
Currently, of his two eventual successors – Prime Minister Mihail Mișustin and the leader of the opposition, Alexei Navalnyi – the first remains loyal to the president, and the other is in prison. For either of them to come to power, Putin will have to go. But unless he suddenly changes his attitude or some surgery comes along, he’s not going anywhere. Mr. Putin’s successor may very well be Putin himself.
So, it’s a bleak outlook, one that many would find it hard to accept. In Russia, why is it that no member of the ruling elite, faced with a president who is leading the country to ruin and who is himself badly affected by the war, supports Putin’s removal?
Where are the brave technocrats or bureaucrats who, in the interest of their class and their own country, will plot the removal of the president? Such questions, regularly raised in the West, are laments rather than a basis for analysis. But the answer is easy to find.
Specifically, for years critics inside and outside Russia have relied on one major theme to rally opposition to Putin: corruption. To begin with, the approach made some headway, especially in the case of Navalny, whose well-made videos illustrating the corruption of the ruling elite — including Putin — seemed to be draining the president’s popularity.
But corruption is precisely the ‘clot’ that holds the whole system together, and by no means the catalyst that would lead to its collapse. Basing his power on the thievery of his subordinates, Putin’s objective was far from ensuring their comfort and well-being.
Most likely, the aim was to integrate the entire ruling class into a conspiratorial system of collective responsibility, thus ensuring absolute solidarity. Under such conditions of complicity, no one could step out of line to confront the president.
More specifically, it is not entirely correct to say that this system is all about corruption. Corruption implies a deviation from some rules, but in Putin’s Russia the rule is precisely that established by officials who live off money of dubious origin. If the letter of the law were followed, then practically any Russian minister or governor could end up in prison.
In practice, however, Putin has always applied the law in a selective manner. Whenever any of his most influential subordinates were accused of corruption, the main question people asked was about the ulterior political motive behind his arrest.
This was also the case with former economy minister Alexei Uliukayev, who was accused of bribery after falling out with Igor Secin, the influential head of Rosneft, the Russian gas giant, and a friend of Putin. The same happened to a series of governors, including Nikita Belîh, who once led an important opposition party, and Serghei Furgal, whose election victory went against the wishes of the Kremlin and who was accused not of corruption but of murder .
It would be more correct that, in Russia, the term corruption is replaced by incitement and blackmail. If you are faithful and if the president is pleased with you, then you have the right to steal, but if you are not faithful to him, then you will be thrown into prison for stealing.
Nothing surprising in the fact that, in recent decades, only a few people in Putin’s entourage have dared to speak out publicly against the system. Terror is always more compelling than anything else.
The war could have put an end to such calculations. The ruling class, which owes its wealth to its position of power, woke up to a new reality. His properties in the West were either confiscated or sanctioned – no yachts, no villas, no refuge. For many officials and oligarchs close to the government, this means the destruction of all their life plans, and in principle it could be assumed that no group of people in Russia is more dissatisfied with the war than Putin’s ‘kleptocrats’.
But there is a catch: they agreed to become political agents precisely in exchange for those yachts and villas. The very foundation of intrigues within Russian politics is linked to this fact. Putin’s military escapade has had a devastating impact on the livelihoods of the elites he has always relied on. But these elites, constrained by their dependence on power to preserve their wealth and security, found themselves unable to say no to Putin.
But that doesn’t mean their discontent didn’t come to light. The Minister of Finance, Anton Siluanov, spoke publicly about the difficulties encountered in fulfilling the duties inherent in the position under the new conditions. During a meeting with Putin, Alexei Kudrin, chairman of the audit commission and a close Kremlin confidant, explained that the war had brought Russia’s economy to a standstill.
Even Sergei Chemezov, the head of Russia’s state monopoly military industry, wrote an article about the impossibility of realizing Putin’s plans. But without any political backing, such views held no interest – or any danger – for Putin.
Currently, if the ruling elite is not able to remove Putin, then could the middle classes do it? But even in that direction, the outlook is bleak. For those who come forward and criticize the war, the fate of Marina Ovsiannikova, the editor of Channel 1 of the Russian state television, is instructive.
Example: After starting a protest that couldn’t be overlooked during a popular live evening show, when he walked out with a sign that read ‘Stop the War!’ – she fled the country to escape arrest, leaving her family in Moscow.
For months she has been roaming Europe under accusations that, no matter how impressive her protest may have been, she was still primarily a cog in Putin’s propaganda machine. She returned to Russia, where she was arrested and fined several times, accused of spreading false information, and her home was searched.
His former colleagues in the media and professionals in general had to understand that there was no point in supporting his action. Better to sit quietly on the sidelines than risk the mess and all sorts of scumbags.
On the other hand, the factor seriously affecting Putin’s power today is the Ukrainian military. Only losses at the front have a real chance to change the political situation in Russia – as Russian history proves all too well. After his defeat in the Crimean War in the 18th century, Tsar Alexander II was forced to undergo radical reforms.
The same thing happened when Russia lost the war with Japan in 1905, and perestroika in the Soviet Union was largely due to the failure suffered in the war in Afghanistan. If Ukraine succeeds in inflicting heavy losses on Russian forces, a similar phenomenon could arise.
In conclusion, for all the damage so far, such a radical change still seems a long way off. For the time being, now, and in the near future, Putin – and the fear that, without him, things would get worse – is the one who governs Russia, reports THE NEW YORK TIMES.