Both Putin’s supporters and his opponents overestimate him

Gorbachev and Putin


Analysis & Opinion, Russia

Those who support Vladimir Putin and those who oppose him overestimate the Kremlin leader, Vitaly Portnikov says, with the former assuming there is nothing he cannot do and the latter explaining away their own shortcomings and failures by making the same assumption.

As a result, the former assume that whatever the Kremlin leader does will work out as he projects and the latter fail to recognize his fundamental weaknesses and the ways in which he and his aggressive policies can be successfully countered, the Kyiv analyst says.

The history of the political career of Vladimir Putin is the history of unachieved desires and political defeats.

Among both groups, Portnikov writes, this faith in Putin has become almost “religious” and thus is neither questioned by those who hold it or challenged by those who don’t. But if one looks at Putin’s domestic career and what he has done to Russia as a result of his adventurism in Ukraine, it is clear that such “religious faith” in him is misplaced.

Portnikov argues that “the history of the political career of Vladimir Putin is the history of unachieved desires and political defeats” and that he “has won out only when there were more powerful, influential and strategically thinking people standing behind him. In all other cases,” he continues, Putin “could not realize his ambitious plans.”

And the Kyiv analyst argues that in the case of Ukraine, Putin not only is constrained by the presence in his own regime of many who do not agree with him and that their number will only increase as the costs of his actions for Russia rise and his inability to subordinate Kyiv to his will become more obvious.

He cannot afford to lose even once because if he does, it will become clear to all that he is like the little man behind the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz,” not the all-powerful maestro so many appear to believe him to be.

As this happens, Portnikov argues, it will be clear to all that Putin resembles ever more closely Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev “who voluntarily surrounded himself with those who secretly” and then quite openly in August 1991 “wished him ill” and whose actions at that time led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Indeed, the Kyiv analyst suggests, “Putin is repeating the path of one of his predecessors in the Kremlin with photographic exactitude.”

Portnikov is likely overstating the possibilities for a coup d’etat in Moscow at least at present. Putin is no political genius, but he is a very clever KGB officer who knows how to prevent such things far better than Gorbachev ever did, and he has successfully mobilized the Russian population in ways that Gorbachev was never able to do.

But while that may be the case, Portnikov’s central argument here should not be dismissed as a result. It is clearly true that Putin has managed to convince both his supporters and his opponents he is invincible, with the former supporting him because of that and the latter fearing to take strong actions to oppose him and thus engaging in appeasement.

At the same time, it is also true that Putin’s apparent strength is in fact an indication of his weakness: He cannot afford to lose even once because if he does, it will become clear to all that he is like the little man behind the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz,” not the all-powerful maestro so many appear to believe him to be.

To ensure that Putin’s aggression in Ukraine does not stand and his drive to impose fascism in Russia does not succeed, Putin must suffer a loss and be seen to suffer it rather than continue, because of the fecklessness of Western leaders, to push forward. Like other bullies, once Putin loses even once, the faithful will scatter both in Russia itself and in Western capitals.

Edited by: A. N.

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  • Brent

    Excellent analysis!

    One of the things I’ve been most amazed by in ‘discussions’ about Putin, whether it be with our favorite ‘trolls’ or from the perspective of many pundits, is that there seems to an air of reverence towards Putin. Right from the start of his war against Ukraine, so many news stories talked about how he ‘stays one step ahead of his opponents’, ‘thinks quickly’, or ‘is a judo master who knows what his opponent is going to do before he even does it’. The truth is he got lucky in Crimea because he caught Ukraine flat footed and the new government couldn’t believe their brother nation was invading. He got lucky in Donbas because he was able to lie about being involved, but the truth is slowly being realized and accepted. He got lucky with the time he committed his war against Ukraine because America was tired of two long wars, and European leaders were more interested in doing business with Putin than the value of human lives. Eventually his luck will run out like it did for Hitler, like it did for Mussolini, and even for the likes of John Gotti. None of them were infallible. They all had the same cult like popularity and reverence that Putin has been riding. They all came crashing back to earth very very hard.

    I find this all quite hilarious. He’s just another ‘man’. He’s not a God. He’s not a brilliant tactician, and he’s not a natural leader. All he knows is how to bribe and coerce and ‘write cheques’ that eventually are going to start bouncing. We all make mistakes, and Putin will ise no different. Those that learn from them, don’t make them again. Putin has certainly NOT learned from his mistakes, because he keeps repeating them with the same lies about Russia not being involved, about Russia having some sacred right interestm or being the victim of the evil liberal West. He thinks he can lie and the rest of the World has to accept it.
    >fool me once, shame on you
    >fool me twice, shame on me
    >fool me three times, call me “Merkl”….

    Eventually, this argument wears thin. Eventually even the most vocal supporters start to question his motives, because it starts costing them credibility by their support of him.

    If anything, Putin has painted himself and Russia into a corner that is going to lead to their downfall. He can win battles, but he will never win the overall war because too much is at stake for too many people. It would take hundreds of millions of Europeans to all of the sudden want to live under a kleptocratic Russian mafia style government and give up all of the rights and freedoms they currently have for Putin’s ultimate goal of a “Eurasian Union” stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok to become reality. That’s not going to happen unless Putin has perfected mass mind control.

    All the trolls that talk about his greatness are now starting to have to live life under his rule, where they are being affected financially and socially. Suddenly, life doesn’t look so rosy, especially after Russia enjoyed one of the most progressive and prosperous times in its history. “What do you mean I can no longer travel to Europe”? “What do you mean I can no longer buy my favorite French cheese”? “What do you mean my ‘rubble’ is now on par with the U.S. penny”? The golden era of Russian prosperity is quickly screeching to a halt. Putin can blame the West and NATO, but it will be seen by Russians that it is his policies of invasion and war against Russia’s neighbors that have caused this. There comes a tipping point when that 85% popularity rate turns into an 85% disapproval rating. Ask “Dubya” about that.

    All the Western leaders who thought they could reason with him and were looking for a way to allow Putin to “save face” are now slowly realizing there is no reasoning with him, and the Western leaders are now starting to realize they are “losing face” with their own constituents by trying to allow Putin a way out when he refuses all alternatives but his path of destruction, murder and mayhem.

    He is not infallible. None of us are. He is not invulnerable. None of us are. We all have our weaknesses. Putin’s is greed. He has stolen anywhere from $40 to $200 billion from ordinary Russians. When the meat and bread queues start up again, then the questions will be asked why Putin and his supporters live life so lavishly while ordinary Russians suffer. Why do all of his supporters get to travel to Europe and their luxury villas and apartments and we have to stay at home? They had a taste of the good life, but when the money runs out for ordinary Russians, and they find out they are subsidizing Crimeans, residents of Donbas, Greece, Hungary, Marine Le Pen and all their other useful idiots for Putin’s glory, then he becomes accountable for making their life sh*t while enriching himself and others.

    • puttypants

      Excellent analysis by both. He’s been a lucky thug …hopefully, he runs out of luck sooner rather than later.

    • Dirk Smith

      Excellent synopsis. As his minions will soon see, the almighty “OZ” is nothing more than a greedy murdering thug who is mentally ill.

    • disqus_aJpixObjG7

      The abominable, shameless, cowardice of the entire West in the face of the little punk Mussolini putin shows that our Western world (empire) has long reached not just the decadent phase but its last terminal DEGENERATE stage.

      All empires fell when they refused to take up arms to defend their interests and borders but relied on “negotiations” without military backup in the field (“negotiations”=cowardice).

      The West is starting to feel collective shame and embarassment regarding its CRIMINAL, TOTAL, UNCONDITIONAL, SURRENDER to the little putin… and it feels ASHAMED AND GUILTY.

      This seems to be the new strategic course the West is now taking:
      To hide its shame, guilt and cowardice it has now decided to blame Ukraine.
      In this way tossing Ukraine to russia no longer implies any cowardice or blame. Ukraine problem gone, hands washed, face saved and business deals proceed…

      This process is accelerating in the Westen media where Ukraine is now being portrayed daily more and more brazenly as the culprit.

    • Don Casavant

      As usual Brent you have hit the nail on the head! Great analysis!