Many people in Russia and the West are inclined to support Vladimir Putin and his policies however much they disagree with them because they believe that he is the only thing standing between the current situation and an even worse one that would emerge if his radical nationalist opponents came to power. And such people accept without question the related notion that Putin does not control these people and may in fact be constrained as a result of their pressure and even to act more aggressively than he would like in order to prevent them from coming together, overthrowing him, and behaving even worse.
What these people do not consider but should, Kseniya Kirillova argues, is that Putin is the clear beneficiary of this mythology and works hard to spread it even though he remains in effective control of the most important of these groups which carefully avoid attacking him even though they attack everyone else.
In an essay on Novy Region-2 entitled “Putin Is Doing Everything So He and Russia End Together,” Kirillova considers each of these notions in turn and demonstrates why they are in fact false and designed to help and protect Putin rather than point to any threat to him.
There indeed has been a dramatic growth in radical nationalist attitudes and groups in Russia since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, but one has the sense, she suggests, that “the ruling hierarchy in Russia is ably using this situation to blackmail Western leaders by suggesting that if Putin leaves, then some “Girkin” will come to power and then things will be worse.”
But there is no evidence for the notion that “hurrah patriots” independent of the Kremlin are in charge or threaten to be so anytime soon. All their centers and movements, Kirillova continues, operate on the sufferance of and with support from the Kremlin. They should not be viewed as independent actors.
And the most compelling indication of that, she says, is that these groups attack all and sundry but they avoid at all times criticizing one man: Putin himself. If they were really independent and preparing to go after him, that would not be the case. Consequently, it is at least premature to talk about their being beyond the Kremlin’s control.
That in turn means, Kirillova says, that the appearance of their being beyond the control of the Kremlin is something that is “being established artificially and, even more, is an insurance policy of the president from a possible palace coup.” Moreover, there is an even more disturbing aspect to all this.
“The impression is being created that the Kremlin is consciously laying the groundwork for an inevitable civil war and ‘big blood’ in the case of a change among the powers that be,” a truly frightening prospect. But even that is not an indication that the radicals are controlling Putin; just the reverse is true.
Putin “cannot end the war in the Donbas not only and not so much out of fear of ‘dissatisfied patriots,’” Kirillova argues, “as from the fact” that the war he is conducting in Ukraine is part and parcel of the political system he has imposed in the Russian Federation.
Blaming the radical nationalists for Putin’s crimes is exactly what he wants people to do; and it is exactly wrong, the analyst concludes.