March 25, 2023

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The beginning of the end for Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. The bet of political survival was on “victory”

Vladimir Putin’s bizarre ceremonies to formalize Russia’s annexation of approximately 15% of Ukraine’s territory have once again revealed the gulf between the Kremlin’s triumphalism and reality, writes TheConversation.

Never mind that Russian forces did not even fully control the territories Putin brought under the Russian flag. Never mind that Russia’s “referendums” were a blatant sham – the vote often being held at gunpoint. Never mind that so far more people have fled Russia than the 300,000 troops who have been called up for “partial mobilization” in support of Putin’s feeble war effort. And never mind that Russian forces are withdrawing in many of their newly acquired territories, such as the key town of Lyman liberated by Ukraine less than 24 hours after its annexation was announced.

Putin’s acid responses to an increasingly demoralized public had a negative impact. He referred to the West as “cross-gendered” satanists, calling for holy war against Western transsexuals. His characterization of Americans as neo-colonists was laughably hypocritical, as Putin was literally in the process of announcing the re-creation of an empire, notes TheConversation’s analysis.

He made references to Catherine the Great, claimed that southern Ukraine had always been under Russian influence, and liberally invoked the imperial term “Novorossiya”. NATO expansion, which would have triggered an existential security crisis for Russia that left it no choice but to invade Ukraine, was barely mentioned in Putin’s tsunami of xenophobia.

But the real story of Putin’s latest melodrama is that he has unequivocally staked his political survival on “victory” over Ukraine and the West.

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Crucially, there are now clear signs that his grip on power is beginning to unravel, even if Putin’s demise may still be a long way off.

Existential crises generate internal crises

Dictators often achieve their goals through “involuntary overreach.” Likewise, Putin’s new fragility stems from his own choices. Obsessed with recreating a footprint on what he believes to be Russia’s historic lands and determined to cast blame on the West as the global embodiment of moral decrepitude, Putin has created his own existential threat.

However, his invasion of Ukraine was a total disaster. Its conventional forces were shown in all their glory: poorly trained, poorly led, hopelessly corrupt and often poorly equipped.

This is now becoming an internal threat that Kremlin propaganda is working hard to suppress.

Offensives that were initially presented as glorious Russian victories were later repulsed or stalled and turned into ignominious retreats, forcing Kremlin propagandists to try to put out simultaneous fires.

But presenting defeats as “temporary setbacks” can work up to a point. And always finding other people to blame, from conspiracy theories about NATO forces fighting in the Ukrainians, to criticizing frontline commanders for letting Russia down, is also a temporary solution.

Eventually it will become abundantly clear that the one man who cannot be criticized, Vladimir Putin, is the one presiding over this disaster. This has already started to happen.

Margarita Simonian, Putin’s main “cheerleader” in the Kremlin-controlled media, has suddenly said she is dissociating herself from politics, now claiming she has no political authority whatsoever.

When loyal propagandists try to appear impartial dictators should become concerned.

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