Russian politicians, beyond Vladimir Putin, are increasingly speaking out about the war in Ukraine and its consequences for the West. The well-known US historian Timothy Snyder sees this as an indication that the Russian President is losing control of the Kremlin.
The Ukrainian counter-offensives put the Russian armed forces under increasing pressure. At the same time, the Kremlin is stepping up its propaganda. What is striking here is that politicians other than Putin are now increasingly commenting on the importance of the war and the “catastrophic consequences for Ukraine and the West”.
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For Timothy Snyder, author and professor of history at the famous Yale University, this is a clear indication that Putin is increasingly losing control of domestic politics. Preparations for a power struggle to succeed the Russian president are also underway.
A sign that Putin is “losing control” is that some former Russian officials, such as Dmitry Medvedev, have warned the West of possible consequences. So far, Russia has only communicated such statements through the President. It seems to be different now.
Snyder wrote on Twitter: “Typically, coverage of such statements focuses on their content. It’s tempting to get caught up in Russian fear propaganda. The real story, however, is that other people besides Putin now feel entitled to make such statements. Before the war, that wasn’t the case.”
On the one hand, this “doom and gloom” propaganda shows loyalty to Putin. On the other hand, she may also be preparing “a power struggle after Putin’s fall”. “If Russia loses the war, the people who are now saying radical things have protected themselves. For my part, I tend to see the harsh statements as evidence that important Russians believe that Russia is losing,” the historian said.
For years, former Russian President Medvedev was seen as a liberal competitor to Putin and is now spreading anti-Semitic and anti-Western hate speech on Telegram. The ex-president regularly publishes radical statements against Ukraine and the West on his Telegram channel. Most recently, he wrote a list of things that Russia is not to blame for in the war. According to Snyder, this is just creating a profile for Medvedev that he might find useful later. Snyder doesn’t think Medvedev stands behind his statements.
Another example of this is Ramzan Kadyrov, who, according to Snyder, has treated Chechnya as his personal “satrapy” since he helped Putin win the second Chechen war. Kadyrov commands a personal armed guard that assists the Russian army in its wars abroad.
In Ukraine, support Kadyrov’s troops so that they do not have to mourn many casualties, writes Snyder. Thus, they would be available in a future power struggle in a post-Putin Russia. However, Kadyrov is now proposing that Russia deploy air defense systems in Chechnya. His reasoning: Ukraine could also attack Chechnya. For Snyder, the motive is not credible: “It sounds more like he wants to prepare for a post-Putin Russia in which Chechnya would claim its independence,” he wrote on Twitter.
The state of Putin’s army is also a sign of weakness, according to Snyder. The army is an integral part of Putin’s propaganda. The Yale professor writes that its supposed invincibility serves as a source of his political strength. Russia certainly believes in victory in Ukraine, but in reality the Russian army is suffering heavy losses.
The sanctions would make the situation even worse for Russia: “A world-class army is not one that hunts down drones in Tehran that were copied using Western technology,” writes Snyder. Putin can accept the fact that the army is not strong, but at a certain point “not being strong” will become “not looking strong”, according to Snyder.
According to Snyder, the Russian state fundamentally lacks the capability for total war: Until now, Putin has governed the population through demobilization rather than mobilization. Through repression he had obtained the consent of the Russian population. While Putin can count on support from television shows, he cannot count on citizens risking their own bodies, Snyder continues. In the majority of the population, the enthusiasm for the war was only played.
The historian’s conclusion: Putin only holds power over rivals, weak popular support and the integrity of his army in power – all of which he could now lose through the war in Ukraine, according to Snyder. If Russia loses the war, all Russians would blame Putin, writes the US expert. Only through victory can Putin escape this fate. Putin’s last hope is therefore that the other side gives up first: “Putin has given the impression of a good player in the past. But a good player also knows when to give up,” said Snyder.
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