Is Putin Fighting His Decisive Battle?

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Is Putin Fighting His Decisive Battle?
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Is Putin Fighting His Decisive Battle? by EurasiaNet.org

EurasiaNet Commentary

Russian leader Vladimir Putin could right now be facing his Gettysburg, experiencing the pivotal moment of his presidency.

For those in need of a quick history lesson, Gettysburg, fought over three days in early July 1863, was the decisive battle of the American Civil War, a battle that tipped the conflict in the union’s favor. It was also an accidental battle. A sleepy village in southern Pennsylvania, Gettysburg was not strategically important, and the rebel and union armies did not intend to fight then and there: they collided unexpectedly and were forced to give battle on ground not of their choosing.

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It would seem that Putin, somewhat like the rebel and union generals at Gettysburg, is unexpectedly facing a battle under circumstances not necessarily of his own choosing. A year ago, following Russia’s land grab in Crimea, Putin seemed at the zenith of his powers. Now, thanks to an inexplicable, prolonged disappearance from public view, coming on the heels of Boris Nemtsov’s shocking assassination in late February, Putin finds himself in the midst of a startling crisis that could spell doom for his political fortunes.

It is also a crisis with serious implications for Russia’s stability. Putin has built a highly personalized regime – one that rests largely on his ability to inspire fear and project strength. The Nemtsov assassination raised questions about the extent to which Putin is in control. And now, his disappearance is fueling all sorts of rumors about ill health. It is a nuclear meme: Russia’s strongman has suddenly turned weak.

Kremlin apparatchiks have tried their best to erect a Potemkin media village to convince the world that all is well in Putinland. But gaps in the façade have undermined their efforts. It seems most if not all of Putin’s recent meetings, as reported by the presidential press service, were pre-recorded and occurred days earlier than stated by the Kremlin. On March 13, the official presidential website carried a report that Putin met with Constitutional Court head Vyacheslav Lebedev at the Novo-Ogarevo presidential retreat. But it has reached the stage where few people believe what they see or read on the Kremlin website. And it is worth noting, the meeting was closed to the press.

A picture of Putin holding a March 13 edition of Komsomolskaya Pravda would go a lot farther to quell speculation in Moscow.

But even such a photo would not answer the main question: how healthy is Putin? Has he experienced some sort of medical episode that has diminished his ability to govern. Or is he still on top of his game, and just taking a breather.

For Putin, no news is bad news. The longer he remains out of public view without a plausible explanation, the harder it will be for him to reestablish his credentials as a tough guy. And recent history has not been kind to strongmen in Eurasia who are perceived to have lost their strength.

Back to 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev, who at the time was the master of the Kremlin, faced a tough choice that January: Lithuanians in Vilnius, powered by national feelings uncorked by Gorbachev’s policy of perestroika, were agitating to leave the Soviet Union. Gorbachev deployed troops to quash protests, but when Lithuanian civilians offered spirited resistance during a decisive confrontation at Vilnius’ television tower, he blinked. Security troops never received an order to open fire. While humanity should applaud Gorbachev for such restraint, hardliners interpreted Gorbachev’s reluctance to use force as a sign of weakness. That August, they launched the ill-fated coup against Gorbachev, the event that catalyzed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

More recently, there is the example of Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan. Akayev, a physicist by training, was never a natural-born authoritarian. But Central Asian circumstances dictated that he try to become one. He found himself at the top of Kyrgyzstan’s power structure when the 1991 Soviet collapse occurred, and over time, he distanced himself from the democratic aspirations he originally embraced. By the early 2000s, Akayev’s administration was riddled with corruption and cronyism, just like every other state in Central Asia. But Akayev never exhibited the same type of political ruthlessness that his fellow leaders in Central Asia possessed.

The knives for Akayev came out after muddled parliamentary elections in February 2005. A key qualification for any Eurasian strongman is the ability to rig elections, and the fact that Akayev was unable to engineer his desired outcome in 2005 exposed him as weak. Within weeks, Akayev was ousted in the Tulip Revolution.

Speaking of Kyrgyzstan, the moment of truth for Putin may come on March 16, when he is scheduled to meet with incumbent Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev in St. Petersburg. The Kremlin PR machine insists Putin will be there. Repeated calls to representatives of the Kyrgyz presidential administration were not picked up. It would seem Kyrgyz officials do not want to be drawn into the frenzy of speculation about whether Putin will show or not.

Whether by design or by blundering, the Kremlin has painted itself into a corner. If Putin is a no-show in St. Petersburg, the emperor will be conclusively shown to have no clothes. Even if he does resurface, it will be crucial for him to appear to be as vigorous as when he ducked out of sight.

If Putin shows any hint of weakness, it could provide abundant fuel for a power struggle behind the scenes among various factions that, until now, the Kremlin has managed to keep under control. Such a power struggle could already be underway. If Putin stays out of sight much longer, factional fighting is sure to burst out into the open soon enough. How such a struggle ends would be anyone’s guess, but it is likely Putin’s presidency would meet an abrupt end, and what would follow could well be worse than the present.

Editor’s note:

Justin Burke is the Managing Editor of EurasiaNet.org. Chris Rickleton provided reporting from Bishkek.

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68 COMMENTS

  1. Ossetia and the other break away republic were fighting a civil war to be their own countries? Horse sh#t. The Russians were running the independence movements and Georgia tried to push through to the border before the Russians could react. It didn’t work. No one came to help. Russia has absorbed these regions and what’s left of Georgia will eventually join the EU and NATO. Ukraine will go the same way.

  2. Kim Jong Un has a 100% approval rating. No North Korean dares to be openly against him. In Russia, according to “unbiased” and absolutely “free” polls, conducted by the “free” media, Putin has an 88% approval rating. The Russian media has to be careful to not report figures above 100%…

  3. For hundred of years Russians has been deeply traumatised by their so-called strong leaders.
    A prolonged state of chronic Stockholm syndrome. From the early czars to the butcher Josef Stalin
    and now Vladimir Putin. For the rest of the world this pathological and frightfully strange. But, for Russians this their cultural norm and nobody outside the country seem to understand this phenomena.

  4. True, the right wing fascists in the US just love manly man Putin. I’m sure they would have said the same things about Hitler back in the day.

  5. Who says I don’t like my president?

    And only dictators who control the media get favorable ratings like this. You never see these numbers in democracies with a free press.

  6. Seriously?

    Was it NATO that invaded and annexed Crimea? Started a war in the east of Ukraine?

    No, that would be Russia.

    Talk about predators.

  7. that’s why his only oppositor was shot to death near the kremlin by putin and now all oligarchs are scared of putin dictator can steal their money

  8. Pukin is showing the nickle workers how to take it, and Kim is giving it to him one blow at a time. Look at how big pukins ears have grown.

  9. hmmm… did u know Ukrainian president has his own TV channel?
    now guess who controls media in Ukraine!
    also did u know Ukrainian prime-minister just got Canadian citizenship?
    i wonder why?

  10. Sure and Hamas was elected by the Palestinians. So that makes them a duly elected terrorist organisation?The Nazis were elected as well. The chancellorship became the Fuhrer. Putin is a dictator, duly elected by morons. And so are the leaders of all the former Soviets. Only the countries that joined the EU and NATO aren’t. Georgia wanted to join and were attacked. Ukraine’s Russians had themselves a Kremlin approved corrupt Dictator in place just like all the other morons they admire. The Ukrainian Ukrainians didn’t want to live in a banana republic and overthrew a despot in training. If you think that dictatorships are so great planes are leaving everyday to one.

  11. There’s plenty of free speech, and he *does* have opposition, it’s simply that nobody (in Russia) cares about his opposition, any more than Americans cared about Lyndon Larouche (look him up). Russians *like* what Putin is doing, which they view very differently than the Western press portrays.

  12. Malarkey. If Putin *is* seriously ill, that’s one thing. If he just decided to go binge-drunk or vacation for a couple of weeks, upon his return everything will be fine. The West is hell-bent on smearing Putin either as too dictatorial or not dictatorial enough. The truth–that he’s not a dictator at all but the elected PRESIDENT–granted, a strong and FDR-style president, they simply will not consider.

  13. No one knows why Putin disappeared. I doubt he’s going anywhere but I’m believe it’s probably connected to the killing on Nemtsov on the Kremlin’s doorstep…. It’s extremely unlikely Putin had anything to do with that and I’m sure it has the Kremlin rattled….

  14. You’re always losing something, like a brain or the human values. That’s why some governments do not join the west, nor ‘east’ and some west people can understand your feelings. There is always something bigger and more important in the Universe than in someone’s apartment, closet, garage or a bank account.

  15. Putin and Kim Jong un have become close new buddies. Two birds of a feather. Kim…”Vlad, want to have some real fun? Hee hee, a real knee slapping fun? Putin….Can it make smile? Kim….depends on you. Just disappear for three weeks, and watch the world go bonkers, then suddenly show back up, flip the finger and like Arnold say “I’mmmmm back!”

  16. Right you are! 99% of western mass media full of speculations and no proven facts! And poor americans must eat it every day!

  17. Even plastic surgery! Nowdays mass-media’s anti-Putin campaign, writing all those filthy things about him reminds me a smear campaign that was in U.S media against Michael Jackson! Don’t you remember how they were trying to cover in mud that talented man?!

  18. Better to visit a doctor or it will be late! Your brainwashing was so deep…..! What an ignorance to compare those two men!

  19. It is you who vomiting nonsenses! Chiken head! “NATO has no interests in Ukraine….” Don’t be so childish! NATO has its interests! NATO is a predator! Russia will never allow NATO in Ukraine!

  20. Polls done in America have shown him with more popularity than Obama — in America.

    Even the neocon press says he’s popular with the people in Russia, so I think you’re barking up the wrong tree.

  21. Keep on dreaming! You can’t imagine how all the country can love and support his president because you don’t like yours!

  22. We shall see what we shall see. Hundreds of US military advisers did not help Iraq. United States hopes that Iraqi army can defeat “Islamic State” without US troops – failed. Ukraine is not any different. Most of the army not willing to fight, corruption is on the rise. The only positive result of 75 British advisers, that few Kiev girls will be paid for sex. Good for the girls, they miss those rich Russian guys from Moscow who were frequent weekend visitors during better times.

  23. He also has 98% control over the media and 100% control of the TV networks.

    You thinking that Dear Leader’s 88% approval rating has nothing to do with the propaganda pumped out by the Kremlin owned or controlled TV news is rather amusing in its naivety.

  24. Nice to see the Kremlin Propaganda Office ™ KremlinBot troll army is still alive and well. This one seems to be a 13 year old girl. Nice hearts and smiley faces.

    There was no coup.

    The referendum was held under Russian invasion and military force and is illegitimate.

    NATO has little to no interest in Ukraine and has no need for a port in Crimea considering Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania are all in NATO. Turkey has the longest Black Sea coast.

    I don’t know why I bother to reply to the trolls since they are just paid to vomit this nonsense but the idiocy just cannot be ignored.

  25. You might want to check out Venezuela…

    Putin had his chance to fix Russia when oil prices were high and the money was sloshing around everywhere.

    Instead he, and his cronies, decided to steal as much as they could and leverage themselves with huge debt that cannot be paid.

    The only decent financial adviser was Kudrin and he was forced out of office and has been marginalized. He’s the guy who needs to be running the show.

  26. Fighting his Gettysburg? Really? He has an 88% approval rating in Russia. Are you implying that democracy and the will of the people doesn’t mean anything and that pinheads in the American Empire (wannabe) make the decision of who governs Russia?

  27. ?????? Read history:Crimea was, is and forever will be Russian. ???
    IF the US would NOT have made a coup and would NOT have installed an illegitimate gov in Kiev – Russia would NOT have encouraged Crimeans to make a referendum in order to be re-united with Russia. Russia NEEDED to PROTECT its military port from being taken over by NATO.

  28. ” somewhat like the rebel and union generals at Gettysburg”
    Are you f…ing kidding? Putin is the reincarnation of hitler and russia is moving more and more to becoming a fascist state. Comparing him to generals at gettysburg is idiotic. It’s this sort of ignorance which scares me the most for the future.

  29. The article didn’t mention it but a Russian news service accidentally released the video coverage of the meeting between Putin and Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev that is supposedly going to happen Monday. Russian has apparently developed a time machine.

  30. He probably figured it was time to bail out – had some plastic surgery, and is now probably fawcking Kabaeva somewhere in the British VI next to his loot.

  31. I have not figured out entirely what he plans on doing should his business deal with taking over a territory puts him in any in a successful position against opposing forces but don’t think that he’s any thing like Grant or Lee.

  32. I was amazed how quickly Russia’s economy folded under pressure. I think I’m disappointed by Mr. Putin. I think I expected more of him and his brilliant financial advisers. There are 2 dozen major oil-producing countries in the world, but only Russia was instantly in crisis the moment oil prices dropped. This begs the question if Russia’s “prosperity” under Mr. Putin is a fraud.

  33. Don’t know what is going on in Russia, but Gettysburg was not the pivotal battle in the American Civil War. It was the high water mark for the Confederacy, but the battle of Vicksburg which was one at the same time as Gettysburg split the Confederacy in two and gave the Union command of the Mississippi, and captured the western army. it had far more impact on the war. Bad analogy

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