Putin’s War: Conservatism Versus Crusade

Date: 02/23/2023
Author: Mr. X

One of the major misconceptions about authoritarian leaders is that they simply command and those below them obey. In reality, no leader can operate with singular authority. There is always a group of elites that must choose to work with the regime. Usually, there are several competing sets of elites. In Russia following the Soviet collapse, the intelligence services were one of the last institutions that were able to hold themselves together with something resembling institutional memory and common purpose – but that doesn’t mean they were all powerful.

President Vladimir Putin’s rule has been one of managing elite expectations. Emerging first as a liberal out of St. Petersburg appointed by Boris Yeltsin, he’s managed to cripple some oligarchs while co-opting others, patronizing the military while not being intimidated by them, and winning the support of the masses through foreign policy triumphs. It’s been a remarkable performance – until a year ago, when he decided to invade Ukraine. It’s doubtful he expected to be in this position today – a de facto war against all of NATO in which he is essentially alone, with even China limiting its support. In contrast, the United States, the United Kingdom and other Western countries are offering essentially unlimited military aid, even if it means hurting their own economies.

For all the talk about how he’s some fiery autocrat, Vladimir Putin is cautious to a fault. Unfortunately for him, waging war halfway tends not to end well. Putin clearly expected a quick triumph and now he’s caught in an impossible situation. Despite allusions to the Great Patriotic War, his regime may not survive a declaration of war or massive conscription. We can be sure Western intelligence agencies are spreading plenty of money around when it comes to regime change, and even some of his domestic rivals have decided they will swallow their nationalist pride if it means deposing him. Dissident Alexei Navalny recently said that a post-Putin Russia should even be willing to surrender Crimea.

More importantly, for the first time in his regime, President Putin seems unable to keep disputes among the elite private. The Wagner Group’s Yevgeny Prigozhin has publicly accused the Russian military of holding back critical artillery supplies from his fighters. He blames them for Wagner’s inability to take Bakhmut in Donbass, despite attacks that have lasted for months. Wagner has also been very publicly cut off at the knees, with its leader saying that it will no longer recruit prisoners and that it will be reduced in size. This means that the conventional Russian military will now be leading the effort – and it has hardly covered itself in glory thus far.

Ukraine may even be looking to go on the offensive. Moldova appears to have uncovered a plot to overthrow the government, meaning that the West now has an opportunity to directly intervene and wipe out the Russian enclave in Transnistria. Belarus is gearing up to enter the war, but that may cause more problems for Russia – it could provide a reason for Poland to intervene. While there are the occasional scattered protests throughout the West, the EU, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other political elites are clearly not intimidated by any of them. Even the blockbuster charge by controversial journalist Seymour Hersh that it was the United States which blew up the Nord Stream pipeline has largely failed to cause any large-scale backlash. Western governments have media narratives firmly under control.

In truth, Putin looks extremely weak. He is not willing to give Wagner what it needs to win in the east and his own military is failing. Despite a continual message of reassurance and that everything is going according to plan, it’s clear that is not the case. With the failure of a winter offensive to take any significant territory, it’s now Ukraine gearing up for the next move, with a reserve composed of troops that have been training overseas with advanced Western weaponry and doctrines of combined arms warfare. Meanwhile, most of Russia’s stockpiles have already been exhausted, and even supplies of drones from Iran seem to be drying up.

$1,000 A Week on ONE Stock?

For the average American, that’s an extra salary…and that’s exactly what Corey Snyder is guaranteeing when you put his proprietary Dragnet system to work.

It’s time to claim what’s yours. Click here for the full details.

What exactly has President Putin gained from the conflict? There are three things.

First, public support remains relatively high. According to an independent pollster in Russia, support for the Special Military Operations remains at about 80%. This is unlikely to change unless Russia suffers a major defeat on the battlefield.

Second, much of Russia’s political opposition has left the country. As businessman Konstantin Malofeyev bragged recently, “Liberalism in Russia is dead forever, thank God.” He argued that the war is allowing the country to “cleanse” itself from “liberalism and the Western poison.” War is the health of the state, and the war is allowing Putin’s government to push more military training and something resembling a coherent ideology. In his recent speech to the country, President Putin attacked the West’s social liberalism, particularly on sexual issues. Many Russian liberals who would have pushed back against this have fled the country, and they haven’t exactly found a welcome reception overseas.

Finally, Russia is setting itself up as the champion of the “multipolar” world, the frontline fighter against Western, especially American, economic domination. This plays well with China, which is shifting ever so slowly into Moscow’s camp. Increasing anti-People’s Republic sentiment in the American government among both Republicans and Democrats are pushing Beijing closer, despite China’s usual conservatism and cowardice. Even as this is written, China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, is visiting Moscow. With the 2024 presidential election already underway, we can expect the Republicans to attack President Joe Biden for allegedly being “soft” on China. In fact, that might be the single issue that unites everyone from Nikki Haley to former president Donald Trump. It’s not really true, considering that President Biden has unleashed a massive effort to cut China off from semiconductor manufacturing and has given a flat guarantee that the United States will defend Taiwan. Nontheless, the only way for the Biden Administration to respond is to go even farther – which will naturally push Russia and China closer together.

Vladimir Putin’s strategy thus makes a certain sense. He wants to play for time, keep the costs of the war away from most of the Russian public, and take a defensive strategy. The longer the war goes on, the easier it is for him to do three things:

  • Continue to build ties with China that will allow Russia to survive economic encirclement and eventually ensure the military and technical support it needs to fight and win the war
  • Crack down on liberalism within Russia and use the war to break any resistance to the Kremlin’s narrative that Russia is under siege. In the long run, he may be able to create the kind of ideologically driven, populist regime that is capable of withstanding a nationwide conscription campaign and a massive effort for a “real war” instead of the Special Military Operation that he’s pursued so far.
  • Wait on Western support for Ukraine to dry up as the economic situation gets worse.

However, there’s little reason to believe the third thing will happen. Regardless of what the polls say, American financial hegemony depends on military hegemony, and those in Washington understand this. Europe has shown little willingness to break from American leadership. Countries that once shied away from being part of NATO, especially in Scandinavia, are now eager. Hungary is increasingly diplomatically isolated as its former partner in conservativism, Poland, is putting its anti-Russian stance over its former opposition to Brussels. As for Turkey, once something that could disrupt NATO’s unity, a devastating earthquake and continuing inflation has destabilized the government.

Russia is claiming to be leading a multipolar world, but in reality this just means China – and even China is being cautious. India isn’t eager for more sanctions on Russia, but it is increasing its military partnership with the West. Europe is rearming. Israel is under a right-wing government almost eager to take on Iran, a key Russian ally. Saudi Arabia may not be producing as much oil as the United States wants, but it is hardly going to break from the American orbit. Finally, the populist wave that ripped through the United States and Europe in 2015-2017 has now been broken, as governments can charge almost all opposition is linked to Russia. Given Russia’s hodgepodge information warfare efforts overseas, they may even be right. “Multipolarity,” by its very nature, is not a universal ideology for export, while Western liberal democracy promises the End of History for the entire world.

President Putin is playing for time. Even now, he thinks his military is stronger than it is and can hold the line against a Ukrainian counter-attack. Everything depends on the Russian military’s ability to withstand the coming onslaught that may be directed against Mariupol and possibly even Crimea. If Russia cannot, President Putin’s balancing act falls apart.

For this reason, many Western analysts are urging that Ukraine be given whatever weapons needed to “get the job done.” Yet few seem to understand that if Putin is displaced, a more militarist leader is likely to take over. A complete Russian collapse will not lead to a sudden peace, but a far more intense war under a more energetic leader. Putin’s strategy of holding the line is cynical, but it’s the least bad option Russia has right now. Those who believe the war will be over soon, or that Russian energy supplies will be available to the West again if Putin falls, are being dangerously optimistic and naïve. Russia is unlikely to win its war against Western hegemony – it lacks the allies, the military power, and the financial assets needed. However, it is going to be a slow, bitter struggle, not something that is over in a campaign.

If there is a sudden military change on the ground, the situation is for energy prices, food, and other necessities is unlikely to improve. Instead, it will probably get much worse very quickly. It is best to assume that any regime will always prioritize its own survival over any other goals. And President Putin’s government cannot survive a military defeat. Any successor government will be under even more pressure to show strength abroad, lest they be accused of being “traitors” at home. The fact that Vladimir Putin himself is facing criticism from the head of Wagner – a former chef that he empowered himself – should show everyone that Putin is not vulnerable from photogenic Western liberals eager to please Brussels. The political opponents he is worried about are those who claim he isn’t doing enough to win the war.

Mr. X is an investment analyst working in the Washington DC area who specializes in the intersection of business and public policy. After fifteen years working in politics, he writes on a classified basis for RogueInvesting.com to bring you news on what those with power are debating, planning, and doing.

Share this:



By registering you are agreeing to our privacy policy

Are you ready for The Great American Reset?

Recent Posts