There is no sign Vladimir Putin is ready to end the war, nor is he in danger of a losing power in a Kremlin coup, according to an expert in Russian politics.
Dr Ben Noble, associate professor of Russian politics at University College London, said Putin would use the first anniversary of the war to reinforce his claims he is defending his country from Western aggression – a message likely to be accepted by the Russian people.
Noble said: “An initial point to make is that we should be very cautious when attempting to predict what will happen in the coming year. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war have produced many surprises that have shocked even the most seasoned observers.
“That being said, there are widespread expectations that Moscow is planning a new offensive in the near future and Russian press has reported that Vladimir Putin is scheduled to make a long-awaited ‘state of the nation’ address around the time of the one-year anniversary of the full-scale invasion.
“It’s likely the Russian president will use the opportunity to reinforce familiar messages to the Russian people about the war, which is still referred to in Russia officially as a ‘special military operation’.
“These messages include the claims that Russia is acting defensively in response to aggression from the ‘collective West’ and that Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government is a puppet of foreign powers intent on destroying Russia. Although it is very tricky to collect reliable information on what Russians think about the war – including because of legitimate fears about the implications of saying anything critical – it does seem that many Russians accept the Kremlin’s messaging about the country’s activities in Ukraine.
“The end of the conflict is not yet in sight – and what form an end to the conflict will take is also far from clear.”
As the number of Russian soldiers killed and equipment destroyed has steadily risen over the past year, there has been recurring rumours Putin would be deposed in a Kremlin coup. Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder and head of the Wagner mercenary group, was among those tipped to lead a coup against Putin, who has also been rumoured to be suffering from cancer.
But, Putin managed to quell any military and political infighting and continues to be backed by his inner circle in his war effort.
Noble, a Chatham House associate fellow, said: “It’s notoriously tricky to peer into what is often seen as the ‘black box’ of core regime dynamics in Russia, especially on matters relating to national security. What is noteworthy, however, is how the rumours of an ‘imminent’ palace coup have died down.
“Although some analysts were expecting defections by senior members of the elite, including those more inclined to engagement with the West, that hasn’t happened. Indeed, there is a sense of elite consolidation around Putin and the war effort.
“At the same time, there is a fair degree of intra-elite criticism – including by Yevgeny Prigozhin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov – but these often involve calls for escalating the conflict, not bringing it to a close soon. Besides, intra-elite squabbling is a constant feature of Russian politics, although criticism is very rarely directed at Putin.
“All of this means the elite will likely remain focused on continuing the war in pursuit of a Russian victory, whatever form that takes.”
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