Opinion: Putin just planted a landmine under his regime

Entering a new phase of the war, Putin cornered drags behind him a large part of the Russians. He has de facto declared war on the home front, not only on the opposition and civil society, but on the male population of Russia.

Why is Putin taking the risk? Because he himself encouraged the public’s lack of interest in the war for several months. The mobilization is fraught with serious discontent in society. This is precisely why he decided to make a partial mobilization, rather than a complete one. In the long run, he laid a mine under his regime; in the short term, it will face sabotage.

For so long, Putin has nurtured a mass reluctance to war, a reluctance that will now cost the Russians, who are being turned into cannon fodder.

How could Wednesday’s announcement take the Russians out of their comfort zone, those who have remained indifferent to the “special operation” in the current circumstances?

Until now at least, the main emotion (or rather lack thereof) felt here was indifference. This indifference comes in different shades – authentic, imitative or self-cultivated.

The Russian who is part of the 30% who “rather” support the “special operation” (nearly 50% support it “definitely”, just under 20% do not support it) has no opinion of his own , prefers to borrow it from TV or Putin, hangs bad news and alternative sources of information. But sometimes he doesn’t like the war itself, and someone in that 30% could potentially change his attitude towards Putin and his initiatives.

The indifference of ordinary people benefits Putin. We, the citizens, do not meddle in the affairs of our political class and support their initiatives, but in return we ask them to maintain an impression of normality.

This is what Putin is doing, skillfully combining partial mobilization in support of the war and himself (which happened immediately after the start of the invasion) and demobilization. Entertainment programs are back on TV, fireworks erupt during the annual Moscow City Day festivities (an ironic joke on this day was that Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin celebrated the beginning of the Ukrainian counter-offensive), and people go about their normal lives — interest in events in Ukraine has been low throughout the summer.

But even those who were indifferent could not ignore the Ukrainian counterattack. Although here, too, a reluctance to know the truth prevailed: if the officials said that it was not a retreat, but a regrouping of troops, then it was. Yet even official Kremlin talk shows were full of admissions of failure.

This did not provoke a desire for peace – which is also present in the mood of even those who generally support the operation – but caused an explosion of attacks and hate speech. There have been calls to “take the white gloves off” and really punish Ukraine already. That’s what Putin did by launching missile strikes on infrastructure – power plants and hydroelectric facilities. It is revenge and anger, but an anger that reveals weakness rather than strength.
The radicals are unhappy with Putin and demand all-out war and general mobilization. But the Kremlin dictator lacks resources for a quick victory, especially human ones (which is why he begins to recruit cannon fodder, even from convicts serving their sentences).

That said, it is not profitable for Putin to provoke the discontent of the middle classes, who are content to watch the war from their sofa on TV, but are not about to go into the trenches. Moreover, the general mobilization would divert the human capital necessary for the economy – in simple terms, there would be almost no one to work.

Dissatisfaction with Putin on the part of radical hawks is not a new phenomenon. But nevertheless, it has not yet manifested itself so brightly. However, they have no chance of competing with Putin – ultra-conservative radicals will be suppressed with the same energy as pro-Western liberals: the dictator will tolerate no competition in the niche of war and imperialism.

Public opinion in Russia is very inert, and it will take something extraordinary to happen for the mood to change seriously. The same is true for economic problems. Until now, the socio-economic crisis was not so visible. The full-fledged start of it is postponed, but, as some economists say, it will likely show up in late 2022/early 2023.

With public opinion in a state of inertia, Putin has a chance to find the words to turn defeats into victories. He could stop the war right away by portraying losses as gains. And in part he did, when he decided to make up for the losses by announcing the urgent holding of referendums in the four occupied territories of Ukraine on their joining Russia.

It is obvious that Putin is not ready to stop what he started. He presumes that Russia will succeed on the battlefield. Or at least would gain a foothold in occupied territories, declaring them Russian, in which case any fighting in those territories would be considered an attack on Russia. And then he will have the opportunity to transfer the “special operation” to the official war status and create the possibility of general mobilization. From now on, Putin has only announced a limited, “partial” mobilization.

And all of that could be a mistake. The longer Putin delays ending the war – even given the already publicly expressed mistrust of his top “friends” Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – the harder it will be for him to make peace later in the day. terms that could be presented as a victory.
Yes, public opinion is mentally prepared for a long war, but who knows when the fatigue of constant tension, which must be relieved by carefully nurtured indifference, will break through and change the mood. Putin says he has time and the Russian army is in no rush.

But over time, defeats will become increasingly difficult to present as victories, especially for the hesitant 30% who support him “rather”.

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