The future of Vladimir Putin and system of power he created will be determined in the next few months, and it will depend on the actions of the United States, believes Andrei Piontkovsky, the renown Russian analyst and political scientist. In a recent interview, he shared his views on what awaits the Putin regime.
Piontkovsky believes the Kremlin has not fully realized the extent to which the American political establishment’s attitude toward the Putin regime has changed.
“These changes are a direct consequence of Trump’s victory. Before the election, those in Washington who understood the nature of the Russian threat were a distinct minority. Now, however, confronting the Russian threat has become mainstream among the American military and political elite. This was unconditionally demonstrated at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado, on July 18-21, 2017. Representatives of nearly all the US military and national security establishment – from previous and current administrations – gave presentations. The main theme of the speakers was that Putin is waging total hybrid warfare against the West, that this reality must be recognized as an existential threat, and that Putin must be defeated,” the analyst said.
New US sanctions against Russia signed into law on August 2 became an expression of this now mainstream American stance, stated Piontkovsky.
“Trump signed the sanctions law with extreme reluctance, called it unconstitutional and made it clear that he will sabotage this law as much as possible. However, it is obvious that he can no longer influence American policy regarding Russian-Ukrainian affairs. It’s safe to say that it’s not Trump and Tillerson who are determining America’s foreign policy but General James Mattis and US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker. Their position is so hard-line that even the Ukrainian leadership can hardly keep up in official statements. The law on the status of Donbas only recently managed to include some of Volker’s formulations. It should be noted, Trump’s legendary incompetence worked in Ukraine’s favor. Had he at least a modicum of understanding of the Ukrainian people and their challenges, he would never have appointed Volker to this position,” the expert says.
Andrei Piontkovsky points to Section No. 241 of the new Russia sanctions law as containing the most serious provisions, relating to the assets of Putin and his closest associates.
“The law requires the US Treasury Department to report within 180 days on the identity of senior Russian political figures and oligarchs and their assets in the United States to place on the sanctions list. In fact, this part is rather perfunctory. Of course, all these individuals and their assets have already been identified long ago. What remains to be done is simply applying standard American laws concerning the laundering of capital acquired by criminal means. The National Bureau of Economic Research has already determined that $1.2 trillion belong to the highest echelon of officials who are also businessmen and Putin’s judo cohorts. The sanctions law in fact extends the Magnitsky Act Sanctions to the entire top echelon of Russia’s political elite. Moreover, once these people are named, the matter will become irreversible, because the law will begin to be applied against them regardless of the wishes of any particular politician,” stresses the political scientist.
The political fate of Vladimir Putin depends on the loyalty of his top circle of elites, who have grown accustomed to keeping protected in Western countries the money they steal from Russia. This loyalty has been shaken by the law passed by Congress. – Piontkovsky
Andrei Piontkovsky repeatedly emphasizes: the political fate of Vladimir Putin depends on the loyalty of his top circle of elites, who have grown accustomed to keeping protected in Western countries the money they steal from Russia. This loyalty has been shaken by the law passed by Congress.
“Presidential elections in Russia, just like all elections in Russia today, are a meaningless manipulation of public opinion. The real election is what is happening today, October 7, the day a small circle of those closest to Putin gather to mark his 65th birthday. Today I assure you they discussed only one matter and that’s Section 241 about personal sanctions,” the columnist suggests.
Piontkovsky is convinced that more than anything else, the “golden hundred” of Russia’s richest officials/businessmen want to hold onto their trillion dollars, and that explains why they would go for a so-called “hybrid capitulation.”
For the first time in 17 years, Putin’s entourage has doubts about the ability of the head of the state to successfully carry out his functions–the primary function of the regime leader being to guarantee the security of the assets stolen in Russia that are held in Western countries. The sanctions law of August 2 is therefore the destruction of the economic and political foundations of Putin’s system. – Piontkovsky
“A test step in this direction was a statement made by Putin a few weeks ago about the possibility of sending peacekeepers to the Donbas. However, this attempt had no impact, since his proposed conditions were neither acceptable to Ukraine nor the West. For the first time in 17 years, Putin’s entourage has doubts about the ability of the head of the state to successfully carry out his functions–the primary function of the regime leader being to guarantee the security of the assets stolen in Russia that are held in Western countries. The sanctions law of August 2 is therefore the destruction of the economic and political foundations of Putin’s system,” the analyst states pointedly.
At the same time, says Piontkovsky, Moscow’s reaction may include “hybrid escalation” as well.
“Such an increase is a part of the overall negotiation with the West. We shouldn’t preclude that Putin may get hysterical and lose his equilibrium. In addition, there are ‘real troublemakers’ in his entourage who are prepared to aggravate relations. However, Putin really has no good cards left in foreign policy. At the first escalation in Ukraine, Kyiv will be given lethal defensive weapons, which will make the price of any further offensive unacceptable. Moscow’s threat to use tactical nuclear weapons is just another bluff that failed back in 2015 when, despite big threats, NATO began deploying troops in the Baltic States on regular rotation,” reminds Andrei Piontkovsky.
According to the political scientist, another factor that may affect the loyalty of the Russian elites towards Putin is the “Chechen question.”
“All Russian military officials, except General Zolotov, oppose Putin on the issue of Chechnya and Kadyrov. All of them demand “Kadyrov’s head,” Piontkovsky reminds.
Piontkovsky believes it is likely that the individuals on the new sanctions list will be named in the near future. And this will aggravate the discussions going on in the Kremlin right now.
“It’s worth noting that some oligarchs are already coming to Washington attempting to find common ground with American authorities. Against this background, the political elite’s pressure on Putin will be very strong,” underscores the analyst.
At the same time, Andrei Piontkovsky has no illusions about a future successor.
“Most often, after the fall of a dictator, the same sorts of scoundrels tend to come to power. However, they are forced to change their policies. The main task of Russian elites today is to save their trillion dollars, which will entail establishing relations with the West in some new format. Most likely, the new junta that will come to power in Russia will offer a kind of “deal”: they leave Donbas completely, and the West, in turn, temporarily “forgets” about Crimea, without official recognition of its annexation,” he supposes.
Also, according to the analyst, it’s highly probable that the process of the collapse of “Putin’s vertical” which will start during this change of power will become irreversible.
“Each authoritarian system is based not only on force, but also on a hero myth of its leader. Whether Putin’s successor is Sergei Ivanov or someone else, there is no such myth, and there will be no time to create one. Moreover, Putin’s successor will not be able to stop the process already underway of the confiscation of the stolen trillion dollars, which on its own is already destroying the entire system created. More than ever, Putin’s fate and the fate of all his thieving judo-loving cronies depend on the actions of the United States,” concludes Andrei Piontkovsky.