Vladimir Putin is increasingly facing headwinds. In Russia, critical voices against the war in Ukraine are growing louder, and the Kremlin chief is increasingly seen internationally as a “toxic figure”.
According to President Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine is preparing for the next storm in the war after its successful counter-offensive in the Kharkiv area, while dissatisfaction with the war is growing in Russia. Vladimir Putin is being criticized more and more often – and quite bluntly.
Most recently, the country’s biggest music star, singer Alla Pugacheva, gave the Kremlin a “vigorous slap in the face,” as Putin’s former speechwriter Abbas Galliamov put it. The pop diva has expressed surprisingly harsh criticism of the Russian war of aggression – and is not alone.
Russia is currently running out of steam in the war in Ukraine, and Putin is getting into more and more trouble, both domestically and abroad. Although Russia’s ruler insists on euphemistic rhetoric and continues to speak of a “regrouping” of the army after the chaotic flight of the Russian army from Kharkiv, the truth has long since emerged. The word “war” is being used more and more frequently in Russia, and there are public doubts about the sense of the attack on Ukraine.
Russians realize that war harms Russia
Ulrich Schmid is Professor of Russian Culture and Society at the University of St. Gallen.
The army’s losses affect Putin personally. “Putin needs a presentable victory quickly,” estimates Russia expert Ulrich Schmid from the University of St. Gallen when asked by blue News. “There is resistance to this war on all sides – from the ultra-conservatives and from the opposition. There is a growing understanding that this war is damaging Russia’s interests.”
For a few weeks now, the mood in the country has been changing: local politicians are calling for Putin’s resignation, and Alla Pugacheva, the country’s biggest music star, is openly opposing the war. Prominent voices, but how is the mood among the population? “If you look at the convictions of anti-war demonstrators,” says Schmid, “then you can see that out of a total of 16,000 convictions, 15,000 took place in the first month.”
This does not mean that the war will be accepted, but that the draconian repression is having an effect. “Dissatisfaction is particularly high in urban centers,” says the Russia expert.
Putin cannot afford to mobilize
For Putin it is now a matter of securing his power. Success in the war would suit him, but it doesn’t look like it at the moment. “The Russian invasion army lacks trained and motivated soldiers,” says Schmid.
A general mobilization, as has been repeatedly expected since May, could finally change the mood in Russian society. «An openly declared war against Ukraine would not be accepted. In almost every Russian family there is a Ukrainian grandmother.”
India and China are keeping their distance
Vladimir Putin is also under pressure in foreign policy: “Russia is also very isolated internationally,” explains Ulrich Schmid. The Kremlin has few allies, and they are increasingly keeping their distance. India’s Prime Minister Modi has publicly criticized the war, while China’s President Xi Jinping is friendly but reserved.
“India and China are very self-confident nations that are not dependent on an alliance with Russia,” explains Schmid. “They can share Russia’s vision of a multipolar world order, but do not want to jeopardize their own interests through excessive contact with a pariah state.”
Putin is a toxic figure internationally
Meanwhile, old conflicts between ex-Soviet republics are flaring up again on Russia’s borders. Does it indicate a general loss of importance for Russia that Armenia and Azerbaijan or Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are fighting each other?
«So far, Russia has been the most important security guarantor in the South Caucasus and Central Asia. Today it is clear that Russia itself has been weakened and is no longer able to act outside Ukraine,” Schmid analyzes and estimates: “Putin’s integration projects such as the CSTO or the Eurasian Economic Union will continue to lose in importance.”
According to Schmid, Putin is “a toxic figure internationally. Every post-Soviet state that wants to maintain good relations with the West has to take that into account.” Possibly, the Russia expert suspects, “Putin will no longer run for president in 2024 and will propose a loyal technocrat as his successor.”