Staunton, November 18 – Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine are not part of a broader imperial program but rather a tactical move on the part of the Kremlin leader to shore up his power in Moscow, something that makes any resolution of the conflict in Ukraine more rather than less difficult, according to Liliya Shevtsova.
Many people in Russia and the West think that what Putin is doing is about Ukraine or at least about the former Soviet space, “but this is not so,” the Russian analyst writes. Instead, “everything began in 2011” when Russians went into the streets and prompted Putin to begin “the construction of a new political regime.”
Putin was truly frightened by the possibility that the number of protesters in Moscow would soon be “not 300,000 but three million,” and consequently, he moved to create “an extraordinarily repressive regime” and “liquidated all the provisions of the Constitution which allowed Russians to breathe freely.”
His fears and his drive toward “absolutism and Bonapartism” were only exacerbated by the Maidan in Ukraine, a popular movement which showed what could happen elsewhere. Preventing it from happening in Russia became for Putin “goal number one,” something far more important to him than “any expansionist goals.”
Moreover, Putin is especially disturbed by the Ukrainians because if they succeed in becoming genuinely independent, then for him, they will have called into question “the historical legitimacy” of Russia based on the Baptism of Kyivan Rus in 988, a myth Russian rulers have insisted upon and most Russians have accepted as a given.
But most importantly, Shevtsova says, “Putin has recognized that he can rule in contemporary Russia,” a country beset by problems, “only by closing the windows, locking the doors and mobilizing the Russian population” by putting the country on a war footing by “military-patriotic rhetoric.”
The reality he has had to deal with, she continues, is that relatively few Russians, perhaps only 15 to 17 percent, are “openly Putinist,” regardless of what happens. But “having annexed Crimea, he has mobilized” not only them but other Russians “by converting Russia into a country at war and himself into a wartime president.”
By so doing, the Kremlin leader has painted himself into a corner from which he cannot easily escape. Tragically and precisely because Ukraine for Putin is a matter of domestic politics, neither can Russians or all the others who have been swept into the tragedy that he has created in order to save face and save his position.