October 3, 2022

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Putin is ready to take risks

The majority of foreign policy watchers doubt that an invasion of Ukraine would be acceptable to Russian President Vladimir Putin: According to many analysts, the ground operation could easily become a reality. complex and dangerous For the Russian military, this would lead to severe sanctions from the West that would destroy the economy and isolate Russia internationally. how he wrote latelyeconomicWith his threats of invasion, Putin is “harming Russia”.

Based on this reasoning, many analysts for several weeks have believed that the build-up of more than 150,000 Russian soldiers on the Ukrainian border was It’s like cheating To get concessions from the Ukrainian government and Western leaders: Putin has long been seen as an intelligent and cautious international leader, guided by rationality in his foreign policy decisions, who would never start a risky war he was not sure would win.

However, some time ago a second theory began to emerge: in recent years, for various reasons, Putin has become less cautious and more panicked in managing domestic and foreign policy and that his decisions are shared exclusively with a select few. A group of aggressive advisors. Indeed, some believe that the Russian president has lost some of that exceptional rationality that analysts attribute to him in all strategic choices, and that this may prompt him to take steps that are almost unanimously considered too risky, such as the invasion of Ukraine, which these days seems more and more imminent. .

That Putin has changed in recent years, even on a personal level, is an impression shared by many observers of Russian affairs and people who have anything to do with him. “Putin is getting tougher, even in private, than he was in 2014”, He said to me financial times A French diplomat accompanied President Emmanuel Macron on his recent trip to Moscow.

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how he wrote The The New York TimesAnd the The very long table that Putin used Moving away from Macron (officially to maintain physical distancing) is among other things a metaphor for the fact that in these two years of the pandemic, Putin has become increasingly isolated and has reduced his circle of advisers and confidants to very few people. For two years, unlike his Western colleagues, Putin lives practically isolated in a healthy bubble That can enter a little. He conducts most of his meetings in video conferencing, rarely leaves Russia, and rarely has face-to-face meetings with other international leaders and collaborators outside a small circle.

He has also greatly reduced the public events he attends: last month he attended the Orthodox Christmas mass alone, in an empty chapel where only he, the priest and the photographer were there (in contrast to the previous year, where he attended a mass with a small group of people).

Putin’s isolation has highlighted a phenomenon that has already been going on for several years, the increasing influence of a small group of highly radical advisers, on whom Putin will rely almost exclusively for all strategic decisions. These advisers share Putin’s background: they are all former military and security officials – almost all members of the KGB, like Putin – were born at the start of the Cold War and identified. silovikia word in Russian for a politician coming from the security services.

The siloviki Those close to Putin have radical positions on foreign policy and relations with the West and express a rather strict form of Russian nationalism. Among them is Nikolai Patrushev, a former KGB member who has been Putin’s friend since the 1970s and is now his chief national security adviser, and who is believed to be the organizer of various covert operations in Russia, including Alexander Litvinenko poisoned; Sergei Naryshkin, currently the head of the foreign intelligence services, who recently equated Ukraine with “Hitler’s occupation”; Sergei Shoigu, the Minister of Defense who defined Ukrainian nationalists as “non-human” and Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the domestic intelligence service.

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According to various observers, I siloviki They would have assumed so much influence that they would exclude from the most important decisions all the most liberal ministers in the government, who occupy positions primarily in the management of the country’s economy, but are in fact excluded from any question which is not related to their limitations. Specialty. “His circle of contacts are diminishing, and this affects his way of thinking,” a former senior Kremlin official told Putin. financial times. “He was thinking 360 degrees, now at only 60 degrees.”

as written in Foreign Policy Tatiana Stanovaya, Russian political analyst, siloviki Not only do they share an extremist and nationalist vision, but they also have A certain interest in fueling divisions Between Russia and the West: «Increased clashes and sanctions do not scare» siloviki But, on the contrary, it opens up new possibilities for them. ”

Another reason Putin is taking such risky action as invading Ukraine, again according to Stanovaya, is that in recent years Putin and the Russian establishment’s perception of their country’s place in the world has changed: if that was the case even a few years ago. Prior to this, Putin still acted as the leader of a “weak state from a geopolitical point of view, surrounded by more powerful and hostile others”, and therefore acted very cautiously, in recent times his remarkable successes in foreign policy (In the Crimea how in Syria) and the bulk Strengthening the Russian army They convinced him that Russia was ready to return to a respectable and intimidating great power.

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put it in, he wrote The New YorkerHe wants to put an end to the long period of “humiliation” that began with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Nationalism, anti-Western conspiracy theories, and a new sense of the military may have a major impact on decisions affecting Ukraine, for which Putin He has a known obsessionassociated with a partial interpretation of Russian history and the desire to renew the imperial power of the Soviet Union.

Putin’s more dangerous and contemptuous stance has been seen several times in recent years: Alexei Navalny attempted poisoning And the persecution of his organizationFor example, they contradict a fairly common belief until a few years ago that Putin would have given way to dissent as a harmless outlet for political discontent. More generally, the Russian government’s adoption of increasingly radical policies will be evidenced by the fact that the suppression of dissent has not been stronger than at any time since the Soviet era: independent newspapers have been closed down or deactivated, and dissent has been effectively eliminated and shut down. agreed Various repressive laws political rights.

Michael Kaufman, a military analyst working for the CNA Study Center, He said to me Washington Post: “People say:”[Putin] You wouldn’t dare. You will not cross the line of a large-scale war in Europe.” I would also agree. But in the past three years I have seen him cross a lot of lines that I thought he would never cross.”