President Vladimir Putin likes to portray himself as a new czar like Peter the Great or Ivan III, the 15th-century grand prince known as the “gatherer of the Russian lands.” But Putin’s year-long war in Ukraine has failed so far to secure the lands he aims to seize, and in Russia, there is fear that he is leading his nation into a dark period of strife and stagnation — or worse.
Some in the elite also say the Russian leader now desperately needs a military victory to ensure his own survival. “In Russia, loyalty does not exist,” one Russian billionaire said.
Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began with hubris and a zeal to reshape the world order. But even as he suffered repeated military defeats — diminishing his stature globally and staining him with allegations of atrocities being committed by his troops — Putin has tightened his authoritarian grip at home, using the war to destroy any opposition and to engineer a closed, paranoid society hostile to liberals, hipsters, LGBTQ people, and, especially, Western-style freedom and democracy.
The Russian president’s squadrons of cheerleaders swear he “simply cannot lose” in Ukraine, thanks to Russia’s vast energy wealth, nuclear weapons and the sheer number of soldiers it can throw onto the battlefield. These supporters see Putin rising supreme from Ukraine’s ashes to lead a swaggering nation defined by its repudiation of the West — a bigger, powerful version of Iran.
But business executives and state officials say Putin’s own position at the top could prove precarious as doubts over his tactics grow among the elite. For many of them, Putin’s gambit has unwound 30 years of progress made since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin’s vision of Russia horrifies many oligarchs and state officials, who confide that the war has been a catastrophic error that has failed in every goal. But they remain paralyzed, fearful and publicly silent. [Continue reading…]