In Russia, after the partial mobilization, protests are stirring on the streets. But even behind the Kremlin walls, the pressure on Putin is increasing enormously. A revolution or rebellion is still a long way off, but that is what makes the situation so dangerous.
Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin resigns after protests against his war policy. A more moderate successor makes peace with Ukraine. The Russian army is packing up. Fathers, sons and daughters on both sides are returning to their families. It would be nice!
Although Putin’s army has enormous problems in Ukraine, that doesn’t stop the warmonger from escalating the situation further and calling for partial mobilization. A sign of strength for him. An expression of weakness for the President of Ukraine and many Western observers.
One thing is clear: Putin is increasingly vulnerable, even in his own country. This is evidenced by the first substantial anti-war protests in Russia since the start of the “military special operation” in Ukraine. In addition, many Russians are fleeing the country. It’s obviously rumbling in Russia. But do the dissatisfied, the open opponents of the regime, have the power to overthrow Putin? Or is the Kremlin ruler threatened with a palace revolt first?
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“I don’t currently see the danger of a revolution or rebellion within the Kremlin walls,” says Gerhard Mangott, an expert on Eastern Europe and a professor of international relations at the University of Innsbruck. “But the fact that Putin has now ordered partial mobilization shows that he has definitely come under pressure in Russia’s inner circle of power and has therefore now decided to take this step.”
The dictator certainly deserves no pity for that. However, one can conclude from this that Putin cannot do as he pleases in the Moscow powerhouse. The question therefore arises as to how much power the figures better known in the West, such as Foreign Minister Lavrov, Defense Minister Shoigu and ex-President Medvedev, really have? Do you belong to the inner circle of the Kremlin?
“Medvedev is definitely not one of them,” Mangott clarifies. Lavrov, too, is basically just a vicarious agent of the Office of the President. And Putin’s relationship with Defense Minister Shoigu has also suffered due to the lack of military successes. “The inner circle of power includes the Secretary of the Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, as well as the heads of the domestic secret service FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, and the foreign secret service SVR, Sergei Naryshkin.”
Would any of them have what it takes to replace Putin? “Patruschev, a longtime friend of Putin from St. Petersburg, would be a possible candidate,” says Mangott. He is an even bigger political and military hardliner than the president himself, “but at the same time flexible enough to disarm in terms of his choice of words and political positions, if the worst comes to the worst”. If it came to that, he could conduct negotiations with Ukraine.
But it’s not that far yet. Rather, Russia expert Mangott fears that a cornered Putin will exhaust all military means should the war develop into a total disaster for him. “That also means ordering the use of tactical nuclear weapons,” warns Mangott. “What happens then, no one can seriously estimate.”
Meanwhile, fear and resentment at the president’s warfare is also growing within Russia. People took to the streets in several cities, and the international media reported more than 1,000 arrests in this connection. “The people who took to the streets yesterday must be admired for their courage,” Mangott makes clear. In particular, because the security forces were really not reluctant to contain the protests.
But anyone who deduces from this that a large protest movement could now develop from this may quickly be disappointed. Overall, it must be stated that the number of demonstrators in Moscow and nationwide was not large enough to really exert pressure from below, according to Mangott.
Above all, however, the anti-war movement lacks a real figurehead, a charismatic personality at the top. “The problem is that everyone who is eligible for this is in prison or in custody, for example Alexej Navalny,” Mangott points out. Apart from that, 419,000 Russians have left their country or emigrated in the past seven months since the war began. “Most of them were well-educated people who were rather critical of the regime.”
Stefan Meister from the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) also assumes that Putin will come under more pressure if he suffers further defeats. “At the same time, the power apparatus will increase the pressure on society and expand repression.” The Russia expert does see protests, but no mass movements.
In his opinion, this has something to do with the fact that the Russians are tired of demonstrations on the one hand and that new laws and the security apparatus are preventing protests on the other.
Nevertheless, the Russia expert Meister assumes that the mood will change – if the army suffers further defeats. However, he does not believe in a popular uprising. “Putin is more likely to be replaced by the power apparatus if he can no longer show any successes and his authority is crumbling.”
The political scientist Alexander Libman from the Institute for East European Studies at Freie Universität Berlin also dampens hopes of a “wind of change” in Russia. So far, very few people have joined the protests. People would be more likely to try to reduce their personal risk than to protest, Libman predicts.
“Especially those who protest are now more likely to be drafted into the army.” With the mobilization, the Russian state now has a perfect means of taking action against the opposition and critics of the regime. “Putin can pull off the partial mobilization, fill up his army in Ukraine and carry on the war for a long time.”