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Russian nationalism puts pressure on Putin

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Russia’s military reversal in Ukraine is stirring the anger and frustration of hawkish nationalists back home. Is discontent among hardliners a serious threat to Vladimir Putin’s regime?

First, some housekeeping. I’m away next week so the Saturday edition of Europe Express will be written by my colleague and Sam Fleming, head of FT Brussels. You can contact me at tony.barber@ft.com. Following the Italian elections, the FT will hold a registrant briefing on September 27 to discuss what’s next for the country and Europe. Sign up for free today and submit your questions in advance to the panelists.

In Western societies, there is a understandable tendency to focus on Putin’s liberal antiwar critics. Certainly, we can only admire their bravery.

Here are some examples:

Earlier this month, city lawmakers in Moscow and St Petersburg signed a petition calling for Mr. Putin to step down. The authorities are ready to close St Petersburg District Council where there was an objection.

Lev Karmanov, a Moscow voter, was arrested for drawing a pigeon with the words “no war!” on your ballot in a local election.

Polina Osetinskaya, a classical pianist, canceled her second concert in a week after she spoke out against the war. Freelance creatives can expect worse to come: an extremist group called Graduate (“sounding”) appeared in the State Duma, or legislature, to crack down on “anti-Russian cultural activities”.

From a Western perspective, the bitter truth is that liberals are a minority in Russia. Grigory Yudin, a prominent Russian political scientist, estimates that opponents of war – not all of them libertarians anyway – make up about 20 to 25 percent of public opinion.

Their influence is limited because “they are banned from the Russian-based media and are generally depressed.” To better understand the mood of Russian society, I encourage you to read Yudin’s light up Twitter thread full.

On the contrary, the hawk’s indignation towards Russia retreat in northeastern Ukraine is noisy and fierce. In view of Tatiana StanovayaAnother Russian political analyst, “the pro-war opposition could become one of the most serious challenges facing the government since the defeat of the unsystematic forces.” [liberal] Opposition”.

Putin’s nationalist attacks on waging war point to one of his main weaknesses – the myth, cultivated every year after he came to power in 2000, about his near-superhuman invincibility.

They illustrate how war is exacerbating tensions in Russian society, including over-supporting Putin’s regime. Denis Volkov and Andrei Kolesnikov Writing for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Across Russia since February 24, old friends are gone; parents and children no longer talk to each other; couples who have been married for a long time no longer trust each other; and teachers and students are accusing each other.

Who are the hawks, and what is their influence?

inside words by Alexey Kovalevinvestigative editor at Meduza news site:

[They are] a loose coalition – mostly online – of far-right extremists, veterans of the 2014 Donbas war, mercenaries of the Wagner Group, bloggers, journalists war personnel operating their own Telegram channels and Russian state media personnel. Some are soldiers or mercenaries fighting in Ukraine.

Let’s be clear: the ferocity of Russia’s gratuitous invasion goes hand in hand with Putin’s intention to destroy Ukraine as an independent nation within internationally recognized borders. There is no doubt that the distinction between the Russian president and his inner circle and radical fanatics on the other.

However, Ekaterina Vinokurova, a writer of Yarnovost website, her contacts with Russian authorities show that “there are a lot of equalizers in the Kremlin. . .[who]treat progressives like barking dogs that should be chained.”

This applies to men like Igor Girkinguerrilla war Strelkov, or “sniper”. He is a former Russian intelligence agent who has never forgiven the Kremlin cut him off following his role in promoting Donbas separatism in 2014.

Girkin wants Putin to do it project “Novorossiya”, the view of Russian-controlled Ukraine stretches from Kharkiv to Odesa. Now, he blames the Kremlin for its mishandling of this year’s invasion.

A dynamic map showing the region of Ukraine under Russian control since February.  After withdrawing from Kyiv, Russia focused on the east and south of the country in a slow war of attrition.

The critically important question is the extent to which the hawks have connections and influence with security and military officials, who are ultimately the keepers of Putin’s power.

In an article for the Moscow Times, written a few weeks before the invasion, Mark Galeotti, a British expert on Russian security services, made this point:

Have . . . A series of strongly nationalist criticisms of Putin aligns with elements of the systematic and unsystematic opposition, but also has a constituency in the security apparatus on which the Kremlin depends. enter. ..

Take a glance at their Telegram channels or some of the retooled message boards and it will soon become clear how powerful nationalist criticism of the government can be, even within agencies like the National Guard. intended as their communication tool. “

In her forthcoming book Hybrid warrior (which I’ll be reviewing for the FT soon), Russian-American author Anna Arutunyan makes a similar statement. She said that key figures in Russia’s FSB intelligence agency and broader security community were displeased in 2014 when Putin was reluctant to expand Russia’s support for Donbas separatists.

What do you think? Are extremists a threat to Putin’s hold on power? Vote here.

More on this topic

Notable, quotable

“God is peace. He always guides us along the path of peace, never of war” – Pope Francis, speaking at a world faith conference in Kazakhstan, have a clear goal at Patriarch Kirill, Russian Orthodox church who supported Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and boycotted the conference

Tony’s picks of the week

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