Far from the “blitzkrieg” that Vladimir Putin expected in Ukraine, who planned to take Kiev in three days and overthrow the government of Volodymyr Zelensky, the “special military operation” in the Donbass is stretching out more and more . But what if, rather than a war that drags on indefinitely, Vladimir Putin mainly fears that it will end? According to Maxime Samoroukov, an analyst in Berlin at the American think tank Canergie Endowment for International Peace, this “existential war” of Russia against the West, as Putin presents it, mainly serves the personal interests of the Russian president. A “whim” that the autocrat allows himself at the expense of the population, to maintain increased control over society. Interview.
The Express : Russia recently announced that its defense budget will see an unprecedented increase of 70% and will even exceed that of social spending. Does this mean Russia is planning a long war?
Maxim Samorukov : Yes, this is more proof that Russia is preparing for a long run. First of all, Moscow has extended the process of mobilization among the population and continues to increase the number of recruits to the ranks of the Russian army. All official statements show that Russia is preparing for a long war. In fact, no “official” is sending any signal of any intention to begin discussions for a ceasefire. Each time he speaks, Vladimir Putin declares that the Russian people are in the grip of a “great war”, without ever actually naming it. But it is indeed an existential war against the West, through which the country plays out every day, he says, its survival as a civilization.
It seemed likely that Putin would lose popularity as Russia became mired in war. However, this does not seem to be the case. For what ?
It is important to remember that Vladimir Putin never promised anything “concrete” on the outcome of this war, nor on its objectives. He remained very evasive. I think he believes that this war is now turning against the West. Little by little, he convinced the population of this. Its power of persuasion is such that despite the partial mobilization of the population, which has nevertheless affected tens of thousands of young Russians, and despite the sanctions on products which affect Russian consumption, its popularity has not declined so much as That.
If he keeps Russian society in the dark, it is precisely to prevent it from realizing that this war, for which thousands of Russians are dying, is a war for nothing. She is simply Putin’s whim. On the other hand, the population is not about to admit that this war is meaningless.
Can we say that Putin fears the end of the war in Ukraine?
Yes, the end of the war will be problematic for Putin. The tension of war maintains, in Russia, an “exceptional” climate and stimulates the patriotic spirit. It is thanks to this atmosphere that Putin can better suppress society and the few dissidents still in Russia, without major reaction from the population. But when everything ends, a lot of questions will arise in the country. Everyone will finally realize what they have lost or wonder what the existential reasons for this war were in the end…
If the war ends, we can no longer hold him responsible for all the problems facing Russians, and their economic difficulties. Some people will then realize the extent of the war crimes committed by Russia, although I don’t think this will be the major problem for the population. Continuing the war at all costs has become Putin’s priority: it means plundering him of his power, of his domination over Russian society.
Will this change if the war is exported to Russia?
It’s already the case. Russian towns on the Ukrainian borders have already been evacuated, drone attacks have hit several places in Russia, even the capital, Moscow. For now, the Russians are choosing to ignore it. Russian society is very tired, even “robotic”. Furthermore, the Russian authorities avoid reporting these incidents. However, the war cannot be massively exported to Russian territory. Western countries are making sure that Ukraine does not directly attack Russia, as it is a nuclear power, and this could lead to atomic war. For this reason, the war in Ukraine will remain in Ukraine and will never turn into a full-scale war in Russia.
Vladimir Putin has, in these conditions, nothing to fear. He feels completely secure in his country and in his power. And that’s why, in part, he chose to prolong this war as long as possible.
And if Ukraine wins, what will happen then?
We must first ask ourselves what a victory for Ukraine means. For the Ukrainians, it involves reconquering the territories according to the borders defined in 1991. If it succeeds, why would Russia consider this a defeat, and why would Russia stop the war at that time? Even after the liberation of all Ukrainian territories, Russia, in my opinion, will continue the war in one way or another. For example, the army will continue to attack the Ukrainian borders or will strive to reconquer Crimea… All this to, ultimately, maintain this atmosphere which is so successful for Putin. He has plunged the world into endless war.
Does this war offer other opportunities for Putin?
By adapting to reality, he knows what benefits he gets. For example, there are his relations with Asia, a region which he had made his priority for a decade. Of course, war does not only have advantages: sanctions do indeed work on the Russian economy. He also realizes that Russia’s position is declining in the post-Soviet space, Russia’s so-called “near abroad.” Let’s take the example of Nagorno-Karabakh, where Putin was unable – or unwilling – to help Armenia, out of weakness. Putin has transformed himself into a leader who takes things as they are. He abandoned long-term plans.
Does the Russian opposition in exile, although lacking any apparent structure at the moment, worry him?
No, I do not think so. Even before the war in Ukraine, the Kremlin knowingly destroyed all structures of civil society. In Russia, there is currently no opposition, no elections, no independent institutions. Everything is under state control. So I don’t think that anyone or an institution outside the country can effectively influence a process of democratization or regime change. Currently, there is no threat to Russian power. The only things that could cause him to falter will come from mistakes the authorities make on their own.