Could Putin emerge stronger after the Russia-Ukraine war? Political scientist points out the warning signs

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Politologist Ekaterina Schulmann is part of the club, those critical voices in Russia recently labeled “Foreign Agents”.

Like most of them, Schulmann has left the country for now. But, since her tenure as a scholar at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, Schulmann, an expert on Russian government and civil society, has continued to broadcast regularly on her YouTube channel, as a million Russian-speaking subscribers hang every word on her about what she is. it’s really happening in the motherland and where their country is headed.

In the absence of true freedom of speech in Russia, opinion polls must be relied upon for at least a while as an indicator of how people feel about the war and their president, Schulmann pointed out. He added the caveat: “This is not a representative sample of the Russian population in general, but these are the voices that are heard nonetheless. Other kinds of opinions are suppressed, so we must, whether we want it or not, take it for a species. of generalized expression of the country’s feelings “.

And according to Schulmann, sentiment in Russia appears overwhelmingly anti-Western – and that the West is responsible for the war that is destroying lives and cities in Ukraine, but also disrupting life in Russia, as the Russians knew it.

“Perhaps one of the explanations is that the shock of this conflict was so great that it forced people en masse to seek some sort of explanation that would put them at ease. Blame someone else, blame an outside actor for all the horror that fell on their heads, it’s a very natural, if not very rational psychological strategy, “Schulmann speculated. “So, it is not us to blame, and it is not the Ukrainians’ fault, but it is those evil external forces, particularly the United States and, to a lesser extent, Europe.”

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FILE – Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto speak during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow in October 2021.
(Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, photo of the Kremlin pool via AP, file)

Schulmann added that he was “sad to see that this force was built on both sides, that some of the actions and public statements on the other side of the border convince them (the Russians) in their assumption that the world is somehow intrinsically hostile to Russia … I don’t know what kind of cultural epochal change is necessary to offer a counterweight and therefore compete with this set of opinions “.

Opinion polls have shown that the Russians are uniting around the government line and the elite are doubling down, trying to outdo each other, which could explain things like former President Dmitry Medvedev’s recent outburst against the West. The once liberal modernizer and hopeful leader said on social media last week, “I hate them,” in an apparent reference to the West. “They want death for Russia and as long as I am alive, I will do everything to make them disappear.”

Maksym, 3, is photographed with his brother, Dmytro, 16, on top of a destroyed Russian tank on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine on May 8.

Maksym, 3, is photographed with his brother, Dmytro, 16, on top of a destroyed Russian tank on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine on May 8.
(AP / Emilio Morenatti, File)

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Schulmann said he saw this as part of a very public competition between Russian politicians during a period of change, people who have long been comfortable in positions they didn’t need to fight to realize that their world is too. unstable. “This is why there is so much public activity and tough and potentially violent competition among elite players.”

Although things have changed in this newly isolated Russia, Schulmann said, President Vladimir Putin may have managed to further consolidate his position. He restricted the freedoms of the Russians, but during his two decades of reign, there were a good 15 years of improving living standards for many, and that explains much of his popularity.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, in the Moscow Kremlin on 11 March.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, in the Moscow Kremlin on 11 March.
(MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP via Getty Images, File)

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In contrast to those who think this disastrous war will spell Putin’s end, Schulmann said the numbers, however uncertain, told a different story. Despite a clearly significant number of people strongly opposed to the war in Ukraine, many of them young, a recent Levada Center poll showed that over 70% of Russians would like to see Putin president after 2024, when his current term ends. At the time of the referendum on extending its ability to run for president again in 2020, the country was divided on the idea.

“It’s a very dramatic dynamic that we can’t help but witness. I’ve always had the impression that the reason for this whole thing could be internal rather than external,” said Schulmann.

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In other words, the war was not about preventing further NATO expansion.

“And if I was right, the decision wasn’t as irrational as many analysts suppose. It helped consolidate elites by not giving them any options. It helped consolidate people by not giving them a choice. It successfully drained Russia from those parts.” of his company that they could advocate and pronounce alternative views, “Schulmann said, adding that obviously everything can change in a moment. However, “for the moment, that’s what the picture looks like. And, in all honesty, I think we have to look it in the face and not try to fool ourselves with imaginative interpretations.”