War and sanctions have done little to weaken Putin's grip on Russia
New Delhi, Oct 8 : In the initial days after the mutiny of the Wagner mercenary group under its late leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in June this year, many experts argued that Russian President Vladimir Putin had been severely, perhaps fatally, weakened.
His subsequent actions, however, demonstrated hiscontinuing mastery of the political situation in Russia, writes, Thomas E. Graham, distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
He purged senior military leaders of suspect loyalty, including General Sergey Surovikin, a close Prigozhin ally who once commanded Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. He compelled most Wagner fighters to join the Ministry of Defence.
Prigozhin's death in an airplane crash in August was -- rightly or wrongly -- seen as Putin's retribution, underscoring the stiff price of disloyalty. At the same time, the Kremlin cracked down on military bloggers who had been extremely critical of the conduct of the war, the article said.
This should perhaps not be surprising. During the past two decades, Putin has proven to be a skillful and ruthless political operator, exploiting the inherent strengths of his position in the Russian political system, the article said.
As president, he sits at the center of a vast web of patronage links that define the ruling elite: senior government officials and special services officers, the military brass, oligarchs and heads of major corporations, regional bosses, and leading academics and media representatives.
Abruptly removing him risks collapsing the entire web, threatening the status and livelihood of each member of the Russian elite. Self-preservation thus provides a powerful incentive to remain loyal to Putin.
In addition, as president, Putin has broad authority to appoint loyalists to control the levers of power -- the military and special services, key economic and financial institutions, the national media, and major corporations that manage the country's immense natural resources.
He also effectively handpicks regional leaders, although they are technically elected by popular vote in carefully orchestrated elections.
Those appointments create strong bonds of personal loyalty across Russia, most importantly, at the center of the system in Moscow that undergird Putin's power, it added.
In his words, the war in Ukraine is in large part a matter of protecting Russia against the hostile 'collective West'.
Despite significant setbacks in 2022 in and around Kiev, Kharkiv, and Kherson, Russia has appeared to hold its own in 2023, both militarily and economically.
The Ukrainian counter-offensive has stalled. The Russian economy is growing, despite Western sanctions. It appears that Western support for Ukraine is beginning to crack. Victory still looks to be within reach for Moscow.
In short, the conflict so far has done little to erode Putin's position, the article said.
(Sanjeev Sharma can be reached atSanjeev.email@example.com)