Staunton, January 25 – Aleksandr Sytin, an historian who quit the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies because of its imperialist and anti-Western views, says that despite widespread support for Vladimir Putin, no one in Russia “will die” for the Kremlin leader. According to Sytin, those who are prepared to die now in Ukraine are a greater threat to Russia than anyone imagines.
On the one hand, he says, many in the elite feel themselves to be “the new nobility,” as the title of a book by Andrey Soldatov and Irina Borogan puts it, and they will be loyal only until the money runs out, something he suggests is true of the Russian population more broadly as well.
And on the other, Sytin suggests, those who are prepared to die in Ukraine are not dying for Putin as people did for Stalin but rather because they are people who because of their life experiences including in particular participation in other conflicts do not fit in and see violence as their only way of life.
Such people “are going [to Ukraine] to die but not for Putin. Among them … are many who have a very, very critical attitude toward the Putin regime, albeit from opposite side of Europe and the United States.” They “accuse it of indecisiveness,” and “these people for Russia and perhaps for Europe are more dangerous than the current regime.”
As long as Putin is attacking, they will be with him, even egging him on; but if he ever stops, they will be furious, Sytin suggests.
In many ways, these Russians resemble those who have been fighting on the side of the Islamic State and who are now returning to Europe, he continues. “A social stratum of people has appeared in the world which is interested in permanent war, which cannot do anything else and doesn’t want to.”
“France has just encountered this problem, but Russia will inevitably encounter it as well,” Sytin says. Perhaps this will occur not throughout Russia, but it is almost certain to occur in places like Rostov Oblast “which is filled with national contradictions.” And this has important consequences which are not being widely considered.
Sytin says that he understands perfectly well that it is “in the traditions of European thought to see the hand of the Kremlin in everything just as in Moscow it is customary to see the hand of the State Department in everything.” But this is not so in general and it is not so in Ukraine at least not in every case.
What is happening in the Donbas, he suggests, is at one level like what happened in Crimea. Some of the forces there are fighting for Moscow because they believe Moscow when its propagandists say it is fighting for the same things that they want, but they are rapidly discovering that Moscow isn’t really fighting for them or for those things.
Moscow is not prepared to annex the Donbas to Russia, he says, because that would create problems for Russia without helping it to achieve its most important goals – keeping Ukraine out of the European Union and out of NATO. And that is best achieved by a continuing conflict, not by resolving it in favor of one side or the other.
The reason for that, Sytin says, is that Moscow understands that neither the EU nor NATO “will take in a country which has unresolved conflicts” with its neighbors. Both alliances have said so. “And therefore Russia is interested in having this conflict continue” rather than ending it. Some pro-Russian fighters clearly are beginning to recognize that.
What they and others who are “not prepared to die for Putin” will do next will thus determine the outcome not only in Ukraine but in Russia as well.