Putin's Rule is Weakening. Then What?Roundup
tags: Russia, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin
Snyder is an American historian of Europe and a public intellectual on both continents. Among his books are On Tyranny and Bloodlands, which appear in new editions in 2022.
It seems to me, from a distance, that Putin's rule is weakening. We now regularly hear from people aside from Putin (for example former prime minister and president Dmitry Medvedev) about the meaning of the war, the catastrophic consequences that await Ukraine and the West, and so forth. This is interesting, because it seems like a sign that Putin is losing control.
Usually the news coverage of such pronouncements focuses on their content. When Medvedev tells us that the war is Poland's fault, or that Ukraine is a Jewish conspiracy, or that this or that action will lead to dreadful consequences, we pay attention. He is playing to a news cycle organized around fear. But the deeper story, I think, is that he and other people aside from Putin now feel authorized to make such colorful proclamations. Before the war there was less of this.
The doom propaganda serves a couple of purposes. On the surface, it shows (or rather seems to show) loyalty to Putin. At a time when Russia is losing the war, the best hope is to convince the West that Russia is somehow unstoppable -- which it isn't. Russia has had to pull back, just in this war, from a great deal of Ukrainian territory. Its forces in the south are in an unenviable situation right now. Russian history, like American history, is littered with defeat in war.
At the same time, the doom propaganda is rhetorical preparation for a power struggle after Putin falls. If Russia loses the war, the people saying radical things now will have protected themselves. For my part, I tend to see the drastic proclamations as evidence that important Russians (Medvedev, also Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov) understand that Russia can lose wars, and is losing this one.
I am not convinced that Medvedev, who for years was seen as the liberal alternative to Putin, believes the anti-Ukrainian, antisemitic, anti-Polish, and anti-Western hate speech he publishes on his Telegram channel. He is creating a profile that might be useful after Putin (just as his technocrat profile was once useful to Putin). Lavrov’s bluster has a similar feel. He doesn’t want to left out of the chorus of celebration of atrocity, but he can’t be bothered to make sense. His recent claim that Russia must annex any territory from which any weapon could reach Russia implies that Russia must keep expanding until it controls the entire surface of the earth.
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