In January 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his traditional annual address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation. Unlike the message of the previous year, the Russian leader practically ignored foreign policy issues and focused on discussing the domestic political agenda: implementing national projects to improve the quality and standard of living of the population, fighting poverty and accelerating the country’s socio-economic development. In his speech, Vladimir Putin also announced the beginning of the constitutional reform in Russia and the introduction of a number of amendments to this document, which radically change the balance between the Russian authorities. The popular vote took place on July 1, 2020. According to official data, 78% of the voters approved the amendments. And today we can conclude that the new version of the Constitution means a sharp mutation of the Russian government, which will also have consequences for changes in foreign policy. Although in reality the Constitution largely does not predetermine, but fixes obvious phenomena and changes that have already taken place: the nature of the Russian government is becoming more conservative and aggressive.
When assessing the complex of changes taking place in Russia, special attention should be paid to changes in military doctrine and adjustments to the country’s national security strategy. These concerns are closely linked to the personal security of Vladimir Putin after his presidency ends. The new version of the Constitution allows him to remain president until 2036, but then he will still have to leave his presidency. To ensure personal safety after his resignation, Putin came up with the idea of creating a new government body – the Council of State, which could become his “alternate airfield”. In anticipation of this event, the country is undergoing a reboot of the administrative, political and ideological structure. The government was dismissed, the fight against protest sentiments in society intensified, a request for a new narrative was formed – the “war of memory”, which means an ideological battle for the historical rehabilitation of the USSR’s actions in international relations, especially on the eve of World War II. Much is changing, but one thing is invariable: the main enemy of Russia and Putin personally remains the “collective West” represented by the United States and its allies. Now let’s try to answer the question: why does Vladimir Putin see the source of the threat to his power outside of Russia?
“Libyan Syndrome” by President Putin
Putin’s consciousness was turned upside down by the civil war that began in Libya in 2011. For the Russian president, the Russian special services formed a picture of the classic model of the “color revolution” organized in Libya by the United States and its allies. The details of Gaddafi’s gruesome death have inflicted severe psychological trauma on Putin. In 2008, there were two meetings between Vladimir Putin and Muammar Gaddafi. In April, Putin visited Libya, and in October, Gaddafi paid a visit to Moscow and pitched his Bedouin tent right on the territory of the Kremlin. The system of government in Libya conquered Vladimir Putin with its simplicity and efficiency: a political regime in which the leader of the nation runs the state and does not occupy any official posts, decides everything, but is not responsible for anything. This is the ideal that was realized in Libya and which Putin is striving for today. At the same time, Vladimir Putin personally observed in Libya the unprecedented enthusiasm of the masses, who rallied around their leader, Muammar Gaddafi. And Putin was absolutely convinced that Gaddafi’s power, which is based on two “pillars” – income from oil production and the love of the people, has a guaranteed safety margin, will last for many decades and can be installed as a model in Russian reality. But the rapid collapse of the regime and the brutal assassination of Gaddafi shocked both Putin and the Kremlin. Dictators are different, but they are united by one thing – fear of popular uprisings. In a democratic state, in the event of popular unrest and protests, presidents and governments resign. And the uprisings under the dictatorships end very sadly for all the overthrown dictators – from eternal exile to death in a sewer at the hands of their yesterday’s fans. Such a scenario is known in the Kremlin. But the Russian government denies the people the right to revolt, and views the “color revolutions” solely as the intervention of external forces that can destroy the morale of the nation and weaken the popular support of the leader of the state.
It was in 2011 that Putin finally made the decision to move from the prime minister’s chair to the president’s chair in order to personally control the situation in the country. The main goal was personal safety and the elimination of the slightest risk of a “color revolution” in Russia. It was in 2012 that the authorities in Russia began to suppress all popular unrest and protests in the most brutal manner. And it continues to this day. At the same time, the slogans of the speeches do not matter – rallies with economic, environmental or political demands are dispersed equally brutally with the use of special means and physical force. Protest activists are arrested, fined, sentenced to long terms of imprisonment and even forced to serve in the army. To suppress popular uprisings in 2016, Rosgvardia troops were created on the basis of the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which received the broadest powers to suppress mass protests – up to the use of firearms. The brutal suppression of protests in July 2019 in Moscow is also the result of the infernal fear of the “color revolutions” that the Russian leadership has, as popular unrest, according to Russian intelligence services and Putin’s conviction, also creates a pretext for foreign intervention.
The evolution of Russia’s military-political strategy
In the early 2000s, Russia’s foreign policy strategist viewed terrorism and its derivative, Muslim extremism, as the main threat. But after a series of “color revolutions” (Yugoslavia, Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan), which are viewed by the Russian leadership exclusively as a product of Western influence, a new doctrine has been formulated – the emphasis is on countering the West.
A new era began in 2007, when the full-scale construction of the Russian armed forces and the modernization of weapons, military and special equipment (AME) resumed. The war with Georgia in 2008 and the sluggish reaction of the West to this event created an illusion of impunity among the top leadership of Russia, including the military. Putin became convinced that the West is weak and incapable of a consolidated and effective response to Russian aggression.
In 2010, a new Russian military doctrine was adopted. The document names the vulnerability of the country’s information security as one of the main threats. According to the authors of the doctrine, threats can come from the external information space and from within Russia, from its own territory. The fight against “color revolutions” and conditions that can contribute to mass riots and protests has become the main vector of confrontation with the West and a course to defeat the internal opposition.
Another update of Russia’s military doctrine took place in 2014. The document, also known as the “Gerasimov Doctrine” (named after the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces), formulated a new “package of threats”, including military, political, economic and informational. The emphasis is on the use of “non-military instruments” by the West against Russia. They mean the intervention of the United States and European countries in the internal affairs of Russia, including through the organization of mass protests by the population and the conduct of special operations that destabilize the internal political situation in the country. Russian political groups, activists and social movements, funded and controlled from abroad, were classified as “unreliable” and were brought under increased control. Back in 2012, a law was adopted on NPO (non-profit organizations) – foreign agents. In 2017, the law on mass media – foreign agents was adopted. In 2019, the law on individuals – foreign agents was adopted. The fight against the threat of a “color revolution” in Russia also resulted in the law limiting the share of foreign owners in Russian media (2014); Yarovaya’s law on tougher punishments for extremism on the Internet (2016); the law on “sovereign Internet” providing for the isolation of the Runet from the global network (2019). The apotheosis of the fight against the threat of the “color revolution” was the “Penza case”, when in 2015, under the leadership of FSB officers in different regions of Russia, a fictional underground organization “Network” was created to prepare terrorist acts. The members of the organization, who were tortured, were sentenced in February 2020 by a Penza city court to imprisonment for terms ranging from 6 to 18 years.
In 2018, a new version of the Russian Military Doctrine of 2014 was adopted.The document enshrines Moscow’s right to use nuclear weapons for preventive purposes, and not only in response to the use of nuclear weapons by the enemy. Also, nuclear weapons can be used by the Russian Armed Forces when the enemy side uses conventional weapons. In this regard, Vladimir Putin, as supreme commander-in-chief, declared: winning the arms race is an effective way to ensure peace.
By 2020, the basic scenario of warfare, which was established in the 1980s, has been revised in Russia. This concept assumed that any conflict between nuclear powers would necessarily mean the use of nuclear weapons. Another postulate is that there can be no winner in a nuclear war. Today, the Military Doctrine provides for various forms of confrontation between nuclear powers, including military and non-military ones. The essence of the adjusted national security strategy of Russia:
- Transition from a policy of containment to a policy of active opposition to aggressive anti-Russian policy.
- The final transition to the systemic use of the entire range of power countermeasures will be completed by 2024-2025. This will be the peak of the escalation of the military-power confrontation between Russia and the West. Military conflict between Russia and the Western coalition by 2021-2024 becomes highly probable.
- Transition from the confrontation of blocs to the confrontation of broad military-political coalitions.
- Russia’s main weakness is the absence of strategic and equal allies. Russia’s relations with China today are “soft bipolar”. In case of threats – the creation of a strategic alliance.
- These factors dictate the transition to proxy war as the most effective tactic of countering the West.
The military-political situation in the world in the assessments of Russian experts
Russian military experts who form the opinion of the country’s top leadership are confident that the war of the future is not a war of people, but a war of high technologies and ideas. The fight against terrorism fades into the background. In the foreground is the conflict with the West. Of course, China still remains a serious threat to Russia, and the Middle East region also requires Russian military involvement and political attention. But Russian military experts and researchers nevertheless name the West as the main military threat. The reasons:
- The United States and the European Union believe that it is Russia and China that threaten the world order, since they have significant military potential and are distinguished by unpredictable policies towards their neighbors. Russia applies the “mirror principle” and calls the “collective West” its main enemy.
- The Russian media often talk about the United States as a “colossus with feet of clay”, predict the imminent collapse of NATO, and ironically about the small number of armies in Denmark and Luxembourg. But at the same time, Russian military experts understand and adequately assess the superiority of the United States and NATO in the field of weapons and defense spending.
The military-political leadership of Russia stubbornly accuses the United States of trying to establish domination as a counterbalance to Russian influence in all regions of the world. Russian experts are confident that the Americans used the following tactics to overthrow the existing regimes in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Libya, Iran, Syria and Ukraine:
- Creation of a hostile environment around the state.
- Destabilization of the situation within the state.
- The overthrow of the leader and his physical elimination.
- Humiliation and destruction of national elites.
This template is widely used in Russia to create and promote narratives about the “insidiousness of the West” and the destructive role of the United States in destabilizing the situation in the Middle East during the “Arab Spring” in 2011-2012. The Kremlin is openly afraid of using this scenario in Russia. The result is a vicious circle: others are frightened and cowardly themselves. There is only one way out: Russia must work ahead of the curve in order to change the foreign policy situation in its favor. To do this, you need to be in trend. And the list of long-term international trends, according to Russian experts, is as follows:
- The potential for US military domination in the world is declining, while China’s is growing.
- The trend towards strengthening the sovereignty of states, destroying global integration.
- The crisis of solidarity within NATO.
- Request for a third force in the face of confrontation between the United States and China.
- Increasing the transit potential of Eurasia, including the Northern Sea Route.
- Transformation of Europe into a global food market.
- The beginning of the “war of memory”.
- Radical environmentalism.
Experts believe that these factors can be used by Russia to its advantage. Thus, the growing power of China is opening the way for a strategic alliance between Russia and its eastern neighbor. This friendship has already been sealed by loans, Russian oil supplies to China and the Power of Siberia gas pipeline. In the future, the development for China of Russian gas turbine aircraft engines, early warning systems for missile attacks and a small nuclear power plant. In this case, Russia can count on receiving 5G technology from China.
The desire of a number of states to strengthen national sovereignty creates opportunities for Russia to cooperate with right-wing European populists and Eurosceptic in order to weaken and destroy the European Union from within. In turn, this will allow Russia to get rid of the sanctions regime and establish a monopoly on the European energy market.
The crisis of solidarity within NATO weakens the military threat to Russia from the United States and its allies. The Kremlin views the prospect of the collapse of the North Atlantic Alliance in the next 10-15 years as an opportunity to create new military blocs led by Russia.
The confrontation between the United States and China raises Russia’s status to the position of a “third power” – an arbiter in international affairs and a new center for the creation of global economic and military alliances.
Climate change and the liberation of the Arctic Ocean from perennial ice make the Northern Sea Route a strategically important resource for communication between China, the United States and European countries within the 200-mile zone of Russia. The Arctic is becoming a region of total Russian domination.
Europe, as a global food market, needs transit through Russia to sales markets in China and India. Russia will be able to control and regulate this transit.
The “war of memory” will allow the Russian leadership to solve an internal political problem – to ensure the consolidation of the nation around the victory of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 and to prove the evil intentions of the West to destroy the historical memory of Russians.
Aggressive demands from environmentalists to abandon traditional energy sources mean a transition to alternative types of production of more expensive electricity. This increases competitive opportunities for the supply of cheaper energy from Russia to the Western markets, since Russia does not participate in green energy development programs.
“War of the Future” in the views of Russian experts
Russian military experts are confident that the era of “Erosion of strategic stability” has begun. The Cold War was the mother of strategic stability. “Erosion” can become the “father” of a “hot war”. The ongoing “war of nerves” between the West and Russia is viewed by experts as a prelude to hostilities. The trigger could be the development of new types of missiles and their delivery vehicles and the development of tactical nuclear weapons – medium and short-range missile systems.
Many Russian experts believe that friendship with the West in the 90s was mistake. Since the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, the risk of an offensive nuclear war by the United States has grown steadily. The United States is reducing the yield of its main striking force, SLBMs (submarine ballistic missiles). The power of the missiles has been reduced from 100 to 5 kilotons, which allows them to be used as medium and short-range missiles and to strike not at cities, but at military targets. At the same time, new challenges have emerged that cannot be answered using the old means of warfare.
Thus, the old doctrines assumed the dominance of ground operations and the advancement of large military formations into enemy territory during combat operations. Currently, there are no logistical possibilities for the transfer of military contingents in order to occupy and maintain order in the occupied territory for a long time. For example, this is practically impossible in the event of a war between the United States and Russia. On the other hand, the Crimean precedent shows that such operations can be carried out using compact paramilitary groups, if a “fifth column” is formed and operates on the enemy’s territory or the population sympathizes with the occupiers.
In the modern conditions, the causes of the conflict are also changing. Previously, they were provoked by the emergence of new types of weapons, which created the illusion of impunity for those who managed to use them first. Today, the cause of an armed conflict can be the motivation of political elites. Main motives:
- Elite dissatisfaction with the existing world order (USA, Russia).
- Entering the world arena of states whose elites have unfulfilled ambitions (Poland, North Korea).
- Regional crises (Balkans, Iran, Saudi Arabia).
- Reaching a social agreement between the political elite and society on a possible solution to national problems through war (Syria, 2011; Russia in the future).
- Technologically, the possibility of crushing the enemy with minimal combat losses or no losses at all (Israel).
Yesterday, the threat was the amount of accumulated nuclear weapons, today – the mood of the elites, their desire to control the raw materials and commodity markets. The modern paradigm in the Russian expert community says: if the elites are determined to start a war, no one will stop them. Previously, war was seen as a continuation of politics by other means (formulated by the 19th century Prussian military leader Carl Philipp Gottlieb von Clausewitz). Today, war is the result of the failure of negotiations, when the elites and the multinational corporations behind them cannot agree on the rules of the game. For example, a chess game called “European Energy Market Section”. And then one side hits the other on the head with a chessboard named ‘sanctions’.
The Russian military-political elite is split into two camps – those who advocate a policy of strengthening arms control and those who support the development of new types of weapons as a guarantee of national security and deterring foreign aggression.
A technological breakthrough in the creation of a new source of energy for controlling military equipment may become critical for the start of a war in Russia. The fact that Russia is conducting intensive research in this direction was shown by the accident in July 2019 at a secret deep-sea station in the Barents Sea. The fire on the Losharik / AS-31 submarine with a miniature nuclear engine killed 14 officers. This compact underwater vehicle is designed for special operations at depths of up to 6,000 meters, is capable of conducting reconnaissance, installing information interceptors from communication channels, and damaging underwater cables and pipelines. A similar accident happened in August 2019 at the Russian Navy missile range in Nyonoksa, Arkhangelsk region. The explosion killed 5 testers, several people received radiation exposure. According to various sources, the ‘Burevestnik’ rocket with a small-sized nuclear reactor was tested here. But we have information about accidents, and, as a rule, there are 10 successful tests for 1 accident. Another breakthrough in the modernization of weapons in Russia is associated with the development of artificial intelligence and its use for military purposes (for example, the successful test of the ‘Poseidon’ / Status-6 underwater atomic drone.)
However, today a direct military threat has given way to “hybrid war”. This type of confrontation includes sending sabotage groups, organizing popular unrest, creating a militia and the invasion of armed mercenaries, cyber-attacks, the use of drones and satellites, air strikes and shelling of enemy territory with ship missile systems. All this is partially applied by Russia in Ukraine and in full – in Syria.
Military actions of Russia in Ukraine and Syria as an example of “hybrid war”
In 2014, the operation to seize the Crimea and Donbass allowed the Russian military command to put into practice its tactical best practices for conducting combat operations in modern conditions. But it was the war in Syria, in which the Russian armed forces have been taking part since 2015, that became a testing ground for the Russian General Staff and made it possible to simulate a “war of the future”: this is the minimization of ground operations, the widespread use of radio suppression, the use of cyber weapons and political intervention tools. … In Syria, the tactic of proxy war is being actively implemented – war “by someone else’s hands” with the use of mercenaries and partisan detachments. The Kremlin is also trying to extend its influence throughout Africa and is using armed mercenaries, including Wagner’s Private Military Company, to control the situation in African countries. Detachments of Wagnerians take an active part in hostilities in the Donbass, Syria and Libya. Strange as it may seem, but Russia benefits from the presence of the US armed forces in Syria, since such a “neighborhood” allows one to study the strategy of the Americans’ actions – this is an important resource for planning the tactics of conducting battles with a potential enemy. Although the Americans, for sure, also do not miss the opportunity to get to know the Russian armed forces better.
An integral part of the “war of the future” is the concept of a “new generation war” – the use of information and communication technologies to achieve military and political goals. This minimizes the participation of the Armed Forces in operations and undermines stability in the enemy’s ranks. Domains and accounts today have become a “new atom”, more destructive in power than the first generation atomic bomb.
Preparation for the “war of the future” also includes the promotion of legislative initiatives in the interests of Russia in the UN, PACE and other international organizations.
Lessons from Syria and Ukraine:
- Proxy war has proven its effectiveness and has led to the formulation of tactics “insist”, which is used at the international level to prove the non-involvement of the Russian armed forces in internal conflicts in other countries.
- Conducting military operations to the fore puts the task of increasing the mobility of troops and coordinating the actions of various structures of the armed forces – this has become a vulnerable element in planning a military campaign in Syria. So, the Syrian air defense systems in 2018 by mistake shot down a Russian Il-20 aircraft. This led the Russian military command of the operation in Syria to the idea of using electronic reconnaissance and the creation of electronic jamming to disrupt the coordination of enemy forces.
- A new tactic has been worked out – online targeting. The use of high-precision weapons makes it possible to strike targets thousands of kilometers from the theater of operations. This creates opportunities for the destruction of command structures deep behind enemy lines – headquarters, government buildings, ministries of defense, nuclear power plants, power plants, gas distribution centers and oil storage facilities become targets. Remote-controlled robots, integrated with regular troops, can also be used to strike.
- The war in Syria and the Donbass has proven the effectiveness of creating several hotbeds of conflict at the same time – the tactic of action was called “raisin roll”. This allows large spaces to be involved in the conflict with minimal resources. The tools of such tactics are airborne troops, sabotage groups, and the deployment of a network of missile bases in all directions. Discretion in the deployment of armed forces and equipment saves resources, but allows you to control large areas, including airspace.
- The most effective tactic of the “war of the future” is a combination of indirect military actions (proxy war) with direct non-military actions (cyber-attacks and information and communication war).
- The annexation of Crimea and the occupation of a part of Donbass have proved the effectiveness of Russian investments in patriotism and the formation of a “fifth column” of Russian compatriots abroad. The main channels of communication are foreign Russian-speaking media and Russian-speaking journalists, which are used to promote Russian narratives.
Russia’s new military-political strategy and the security of Estonia
Russian politicians and experts have repeatedly stated that Russia has no aggressive intentions towards the Baltic States in general and Estonia in particular. However, the “war of memory” sets other accents in the Kremlin’s Baltic policy. The statements made by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the recognition of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as the pinnacle of Soviet diplomacy should at least alert the Baltic States. The same applies to Russia’s official assessment of the Tartu Peace Treaty as a historical event that has lost its relevance, and hence the legal consequences of its conclusion. In fact, this means a revision by Russia of the entire historical heritage associated with the independence of Estonia. This opens the way for defamation of the entire Estonian statehood and creates preconditions for local armed conflicts in the border areas. However, the geopolitical position of Estonia is not of particular interest to Russia – transit of ground groupings of Russian troops to Europe is not possible through Estonia. However, this does not exclude the risks of Russia delivering strikes with precision weapons against Estonian civilian and military infrastructure. This is due to the fact that Estonia is part of the Baltic region, where there are many strategic interests of Russia. For example, underwater communications have been laid along the bottom of the Baltic Sea and the gas transmission systems of Russia – “Nord Stream 1” and “Nord Stream 2” pass. Therefore, the presence of the NATO military grouping in the Baltic States and Poland greatly irritates the Russian leadership and serves as a source of constant attacks on these states in the Russian media. The most widespread narrative is “The occupation of the Baltic States and Poland by NATO forces”. This narrative suggests that the Russian-speaking population of Latvia and Estonia must resist the occupiers. Taking into account the tactics of conducting military operations in modern conditions, there are no direct threats of a Russian military invasion of Estonia. But the possibility of Russia unleashing a proxy war in border areas, cyber-attacks and destabilization of the internal political situation using mass communications are quite real and foreseeable dangers.
The presence of NATO’s military infrastructure in the Baltic region is assessed by Russian experts as a hindrance to Russia’s plans for total domination in the Arctic. Namely, the Arctic in the future can become a new source of income for the Russian budget due to the presence of offshore hydrocarbon reserves here. The opening of the year-round Northern Sea Route and the transit of foreign cargo ships with the obligatory escort of the Russian fleet and pilots may also become a “gold mine” for Russia. This is why the Arctic is becoming the next battleground for the great powers. The landing of Russian troops on Spitsbergen last summer and the escalating disputes between Russia and Norway over the use of the island’s territory are a clear indicator of Russia’s aggressive intentions in the Arctic. In 2014, Russia created the Arctic command of the Armed Forces “North” based on the Northern Fleet. In 2019, the Northern Fleet of the Russian Navy consisted of: 40 submarines, including 8 with ballistic nuclear missiles; 25 nuclear submarines, including 8 special purpose nuclear submarines of the Losharik type; 7 diesel-electric submarines; 38 warships and boats; 3 cruisers; 200 combat aircraft and 50 helicopters. There are 6 naval bases and 10 airfields on the Arctic coast of Russia. The practice of striking the United States and NATO countries during Russian naval exercises in the Arctic leaves no doubt about the Russian militarization of the region. Canada and the United States do not have significant military assets in the Arctic. The restoration in 2018 of the Atlantic command and the anti-submarine line along the Greenland-Iceland-UK line to protect the North Atlantic was the only US response to the increased activity of Russia in the region. Therefore, today the balance of power in the Arctic is in favor of Russia.
For the security of its positions in the Arctic, Russia is strengthening its presence in the Baltic. In particular, for this purpose, additional forces are being deployed on the coast and islands of the Baltic Sea. It houses landing boats, helipads and reconnaissance equipment. For example, in 2019, Russia placed new over-the-horizon ‘Podsolnukh’ radar systems in the immediate vicinity of the border with Estonia. The tracking station operates at a distance of up to 500 km, reduces the target search and guidance time by 2 times and increases the strike accuracy by 2 times.
The ultimate goal of the Kremlin is to create a “nation of war” to protect the Russian leader from external and internal threats
On November 22, 2019, a meeting of the Russian Security Council was held, the role of which in the new Constitution is increasing. In his speech, Vladimir Putin outlined the prospects for the development of the country’s Armed Forces until 2030. For the first time, they talked about long-term planning. Putin named the approach of NATO’s military infrastructure to Russian borders and the militarization of outer space as the main military threat. Putin also noted the increasing external pressure on Russia and said that the security of the state is directly related to the socio-economic development of the country.
To strengthen national security, Russian experts propose to involve non-state business and civil society institutions. This paves the way for the formation of a “nation of war”. The source of the militarization of public consciousness in Russia is the mood in the military expert community of the country. And the mood is becoming more and more radical. For example, in one of the articles on international threats, the staff of the Center for Military-Political Research of MGIMO quoted the Nazi criminal, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel: “War serves the cause of preserving the nation and state and ensures its historical future. This justifies the war. “
More and more politicians with openly revanchist views appear in Putin’s inner circle, and the terrorists who fought in the Donbass on the side of the pro-Russian separatists are getting positions in state authorities and federal institutions. In Russia, propaganda is turning from a tool to manipulate public opinion into a way of life. This, in particular, is evidenced by the appointment of a former producer of propaganda programs on Channel 1 of Russian television to the post of Minister of Culture in the new government.
Pro-Kremlin political scientists are actively forming a narrative, the essence of which is drawing analogies between Russia in 2020 and the USSR in 1941. A set of theses: “The war against Russia has already begun de facto. Military-political pressure is growing (opposition from Russia in Syria, the supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine). Diplomatic pressure is being exerted (resolutions of the UN General Assembly condemning the annexation of Crimea and PACE resolution on the role of the USSR in unleashing World War II). Geopolitical pressure – attempts to admit Georgia to NATO, Michael Pompeo’s visits to Belarus and Kazakhstan. Sports provocations – a doping scandal and WADA’s decision to ban Russian athletes from participating in international competitions. “
In 2018, the Russian Armed Forces recreated military-political bodies that are engaged in patriotic education in the army. Soldiers are indoctrinated with the idea that the United States and America’s Western allies want to dismember and destroy Russia. The current military-political situation is the preparation of aggression by the broad Western military-political coalition, which uses Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic States as its vanguard. Articles such as “On improving territorial defense taking into account the peculiarities of ‘hybrid war’. Preparation of asymmetric responses (guerrilla warfare)” is published in Russian military journals. The amendments to the Constitution should give the militarization of society and the state a new scale and mobilize the nation to prepare for a long struggle with the West.
The changes in the Russian Constitution are intended to consolidate the status quo of the country’s president as a national leader, on whom the fate of the entire state and the entire people depends. Also, the new provisions of the Constitution create prerequisites for opposing Russia to the rest of the world. This means a course towards isolationism and preparing society for life in a state of siege. In this case, war becomes the only way to fight for the survival of the nation. In the mid-2000s, Putin offered Russian society a portion of its oil revenues in exchange for loyalty and non-interference in politics. In 2020, Putin can offer Russian citizens only personal security and a living wage in exchange for military adventures such as the Anschluss of Belarus, the annexation of East Kazakhstan, or the revival of a project to create a Ukrainian ‘Novorossiya’/ ‘New Russian Land’.
Another question: to what extent is Russian society itself ready for such a scenario of its future life? Many opponents of the Putin regime are convinced that the majority of Russians are stupid cattle, a silent herd of sheep or just biomass. I had to read about these on social networks and in blogs, which criticized Vladimir Putin and the people of Russia, who have not yet overthrown the Putin regime. Yes, of course, today Russians are rather passive and do not raise their voice of protest so that it can be heard in the Kremlin. But everything is explained very simply: there are no reasons for mass protests in Russia today. But there are job, salary, groceries in the store and concerts on TV. However, the situation in the country is changing: the protest actions in Khabarovsk in July 2020 showed that protest attitudes are growing and people are ready to fight for their civil rights. Putin’s popularity falls against this background. According to the Russian sociological service Levada Center, the level of trust in Putin dropped from 35% in February to 23% in July. The low level of trust is the result of growing discontent in society. High levels of approval are the result of a lack of alternatives. But the bottom line is this: if Putin leaves tomorrow, only every third Russian will cry.
Yes, Putin has received popular approval of constitutional amendments, including “zeroing” his own presidential term. But, believe me, in Russia this means absolutely nothing and does not give any guarantees of security to Putin. Do you remember the story of Gaddafi? So Putin remembers it too. Probably, the West annoys and even scares Putin, because in fair play and open competition, Putin will always lose to the United States and Europe. But most of all, Putin is afraid of his own people, who easily go from joy to sorrow, from despair to fun, and from love for leaders to hatred them. Yes, the Russian people, which make up the majority of Russians, have a bad quality – not to blame themselves for the failure of life, but to constantly look for those to blame for their problems. And if suddenly the people will decide that it is Putin who is to blame for all the problems, I will not envy the Russian leader. And Putin already has reasons for fear: the Kremlin has been repeating for many years that the West is the source of all Russia’s troubles. But, according to February polls this year, 80% of Russians are tired of confrontation and want to be friends with the West. This does not remove the threat of war, but it casts doubt on the project of the Kremlin strategists to create a “nation of war.” Most importantly, Putin’s ability to use the Russian people as his personal ‘safety cushion’ is under question.
Andrey Kuzichkin, political commentator
The article uses materials from monitoring of Russian media; publications of the Center for Military-Political Research MGIMO (Moscow); analytical reports of the National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow); publications of the magazine “Military Thought”, Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (Moscow); monograph by A. Zagorskiy “Security of the Arctic”.