Most of Russian elite oppose war but tell Putin lies – Financial Times

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Vladimir Putin’s bureaucratic culture and prizing of loyalty over competence have pushed his closest circle to tell him what he wants to hear about the war in Ukraine, not the reality, Financial Times writes based on talks with six unnamed Putin confidants.

The stream of lies, a “survival tactic,” has created a situation when most of Putin’s administration and economic cabinet oppose the war but tell lies to Putin, feeling powerless to change anything. Some have quietly resigned.

Additionally, Putin’s germaphobia has isolated him from liberal, western-minded confidants during the COVID pandemic. But he spent time on lockdown with his conspiratorial-minded friend Yuri Kovalchuk, who shares a passion for Russian imperial revanchism. He inspired Putin to think of his historic mission to assert Russia’s greatness like Peter the Great.

This resulted in a blitzkrieg plan to invade Ukraine that was withheld from close advisers and failed spectacularly. Nevertheless, Putin is more determined than ever to see it through, as a disastrous Russian defeat would mean the end of his life, and he believes that Russia has the oil and gas money to achieve victory.

Other factors that contributed to the disastrous situation include:

  • The weak western reaction to the seizure of Crimea (“a slap on the wrist”) in 2014, which Putin made without advising his security council and against the advice of his close advisers, convinced him he made the right decision;
  • Relying on his “number one man” in Ukraine Viktor Medvedchuk, whose daughter has Putin as the godfather, and who insisted Ukrainians would greet Russians with open arms. One part of Putin’s plan involved exiled president Viktor Yanukovych anointing Medvedchuk to rule Ukraine with Russia’s backing;
  • The FSB backed Medvedchuk’s assessment because it had built a system of telling the boss what he wanted to hear;
  • However, most of Medvedchuk’s network that was to implement the invasion plan took the money and ran, or warned the Ukrainian authorities;
  • The plan was based on the false assumption that Russia’s air force would establish control over Ukraine’s skies, but instead shot down its own equipment amid widespread disarray.

Viktor Medvedchuk was arrested in the early days of the war and is now in Moscow, swapped in a prisoner exchange.

Putin’s calculation is that Russia is more committed to the war than the West is to Ukraine and is resilient enough to see out the economic pain. He is convinced he can see through the strategic turbulence and has adopted mobilization rhetoric, urging society to unite behind the invasion.

In ramping up military support for Ukraine, Western officials are mindful that anything less than a crushing defeat for Russia. One EU foreign minister was quoted as saying that if Putin survives, they will end up with a situation “like the lull between the first and second world war.”

The Financial Times report also says, quoting former Russian and US officials, that Putin has ruled out using a tactical nuclear weapon against Ukraine, as this would bring Russia no advantage.

UK, France, US vowed to retaliate with conventional weapons if Russia nuked Ukraine – media

Earlier, The Times wrote that the main initiators of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine were FSB head Aleksandr Bortnikov and chairman of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev, citing insiders in the Russian government.

Russia’s FSB, NSDC chiefs main ideologists of Ukraine war – The Times

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