As 2023 approaches, Putin wants the world to think he is winning

(CNN) — As 2023 approaches, Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to project confidence as he heads toward inevitable re-election in March.

Presidential elections in Russia can probably be called a kind of political theater. Putin has no serious rivals; His most prominent rival, Alexei Navalny, is in a prison 40 miles north of the Arctic Circle; And polite media portray the current president as Russia’s indispensable figure. But this spring’s vote is an important public rite of passage for the Kremlin leader, who will secure power until the end of the decade.

Putin announced his candidacy almost spontaneously. After a “Heroes of Russia” ceremony in early December, Putin spoke on camera with a group of military personnel who fought in Ukraine and who, predictably, urged the president to run in 2024.

“On behalf of our people, on behalf of Donbass as a whole and our reunified lands, I want to ask you to participate in these elections,” said Artyom Zoga, a representative of the Russian-occupied Donetsk region. “After all, there is a lot of work to do… You are our president and we are your team. “We need them and Russia needs them.”

Putin’s reaction?

“I will not deny that I had different views (about this) at different times,” he said. “But now you are right, the time has come to take a decision. “I will run for president of the Russian Federation.”

This was clearly a time to showcase Putin as a beloved national leader. And they also pointed to what Putin likes to trumpet as a crowning achievement of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine: Russia’s annexation of four regions of Ukraine in defiance of international law.

But if Putin presents himself as president during a time of war, he will have to analyze the facts. Russia does not have full control over Ukrainian territories claimed in September 2022; The war on land had been extremely costly in terms of Russian lives and equipment; And the Russian Black Sea Fleet suffered heavy losses.

What’s more, the war virtually reached Russia. In recent months, Ukrainian drones have struck deep into Russian territory. More than 20 people died Saturday in one of the deadliest incidents of the war for Russian civilians. While Kiev denies it to some extent, such attacks have had some disturbing psychological effects, especially when drones managed to breach the airspace around the Kremlin in May.

But the biggest shock of the war in Ukraine came in June, when Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin launched a rebellion and marched on Moscow amid a dispute with Russia’s top military brass.

Putin faced the biggest threat to his power in more than two decades when Yevgeny Prigozhin led an unsuccessful march on Moscow in June. Credit: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

In a shady deal apparently brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Prigozhin’s Wagner paramilitaries were blocked from reaching the Russian capital. But images of Wagner’s forces advancing almost unopposed toward Moscow – and images of Russian military planes being downed by mercenaries – were a blow to Putin’s image as the guarantor of Russian internal stability.

Two months after the rebellion, Prigozhin died: the mercenary leader died in a still-mysterious plane crash in late August. Putin had survived the biggest challenge to his grip on power in more than two decades, but the rebellion undermined one of the key pillars of his rule: the president’s aura of invincibility.

Russian political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya wrote after the accident, “Many ultrapatriots were taken aback by the mercy initially shown to Prigozhin and interpreted it as a sign of weakness: both on the part of the state and of Putin himself.” “Therefore, even in the unlikely event that Prigozhin’s death was a true accident, the Kremlin will undoubtedly make every effort to convince people that it was an act of reprisal. “Putin sees this as his personal contribution to strengthening the Russian state.”

By the end of the year, the Kremlin’s public relations machine suppressed the entire Prigozhin affair. At Putin’s marathon annual press conference, Prigozhin’s name was never mentioned, although Putin acknowledged that “those failures the Defense Ministry should have avoided” when it came to private military companies.

As always, the annual review was a masterclass in spin, with Putin confidently delivering the message that Russia was once again ahead and drawing on statistics to back up his point. The economy is returning to GDP growth, recovering from a 2.1% decline last year, and Russia’s industrial output is rising, he said. He claimed that the country’s unemployment rate had fallen to a record low, 2.9%.

Putin speaks during his annual press conference in Moscow on December 14, 2023. Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko/Reuters

In fact, Russia has resisted sanctions and its economy is on war footing: according to the US Treasury Department, defense spending has been the main driver of economic growth. And it looks like this will continue, as Putin has promised to spend whatever means possible to continue his war against Ukraine.

And the battlefield situation in Ukraine has given Putin another opportunity to show confidence. Ukraine’s much-anticipated retaliatory strike failed to make any progress, and the Biden administration’s request for more than $60 billion in aid for Ukraine is stalled in Congress over Republican demands on border security and immigration policy. On the other hand, Hungary blocked the latest proposed EU aid deal for Ukraine.

Putin clearly wants the world – as well as his voters – to believe he is winning, and he is counting on support for Ukraine to stagger. When asked at his press conference when there would be peace in Ukraine, Putin offered the same open-ended formula he used to justify a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

He said, “There will be peace when we achieve the goals mentioned by you.” “Now let’s come back to these objectives: they have not changed. I would like to remind you how we prepared them: denuclearization, demilitarization and neutral status for Ukraine.

On Friday, the Russian military reminded the world what “denial” means in practice, launching the largest missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian cities since the beginning of the full-scale invasion.

However, continued attacks on Ukrainian civilians may have unintended effects. Following the latest wave of attacks, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, British Prime Ministers Rishi Sunak and France called for continued support for Ukraine. In 2024, it remains to be seen how creative Ukraine’s allies can be in keeping those promises.

(tagstotranslate)Vladimir Putin

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button