Putin’s authority is rapidly declining

Vladimir Putin likes to keep his guests waiting. In Samarkand, however, he didn’t just have to wait for Turkish President Erdogan.Image: IMAGO / ITAR-TASS

analysis

Russia’s defeats in Ukraine are shattering Vladimir Putin’s image as a great statesman. At home, opposition voices are stirring and there is shooting in Central Asia.

Peter Blunschi / watson.ch

Alla Pugacheva is not just anyone. The 73-year-old is a superstar of Russian pop music, comparable in status to Dolly Parton or Juliette Gréco. Her successes began during the Soviet Union, and she always stayed out of politics. All the more attention was drawn to the contribution that she published on Instagram on Sunday.

In it she showed solidarity with her husband, who is 27 years her junior, the comedian and presenter Maxim Galkin. He had sharply criticized the Ukraine war from the start and was therefore blacklisted as a “foreign agent”. She also wanted to be counted among the foreign agents, Pugacheva demanded.

Alla Pugacheva with Putin in 2014.  Now she attacked him head-on.

Alla Pugacheva with Putin in 2014. Now she attacked him head-on.Image: IMAGO / ITAR-TASS

She described her husband as “a genuine and incorruptible patriot of Russia who wishes his homeland prosperity, a peaceful life, freedom of speech and an end to our boys dying for illusory ends that make our country a pariah and that life our citizens more difficult”. One could hardly formulate a clearer criticism of the war.

“Pretty Shocking”

Music critic Artemy Troitsky, who has lived in exile in Estonia since 2014, described Alla Pugacheva’s statement to the BBC as “quite shocking for the people of Russia”. It’ll be public opinion not only turn against Vladimir Putin and the war, but is “perhaps one of the strongest factors in this direction”.

The resistance against the Kremlin ruler is still manageable. During the 22 years of his reign, Putin “educated” his people to be passive and submissive, and critics of the war face draconian punishments. However, the course of the Ukraine campaign, which was supposed to last only three days, is increasingly crumbling his authority.

Putin’s resignation demanded

In the case of Alla Pugacheva, personal concern may be the focus, but her statement is remarkable. It is unlikely to happen by accident at this point in time. The hasty retreat of the Russian army in the Kharkiv region is not only driving the nationalist agitators crazy. He also encourages the “other” Russia.

Journalists and political scientists living in exile are noting that the Russian population is increasingly uneasy about the course of the “special operation”. Various local politicians from Moscow and St. Petersburg publicly called on Vladimir Putin to resign. In some cases, charges of high treason were even demanded.

Battles in Central Asia

Putin wanted the Ukraine incorporated with the war or at least bind it to itself as a “vassal state”, as is already the case with Belarus. He also wanted to establish Russia as a regulatory power in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. In the last few days, however, there have been armed conflicts between two states.

First, Azerbaijan attacked arch-enemy Armenia, not in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, but on national territory itself. Dozens of soldiers lost their lives. After two days, a precarious ceasefire was agreed. Shortly thereafter, fighting broke out along the nearly 1,000-kilometer border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Moscow’s intervention

It is no coincidence that it is now, of all times, in the former Soviet states that the weapons speak. Two years ago, Azerbaijan had already tried to recapture Nagorno-Karabakh, which was occupied by Armenia, with Turkish help. Because Russia intervened as Armenia’s protecting power and stationed a “peacekeeping force” in the conflict region, this was only partially successful.

Ursula von der Leyen (left) and Ilham Aliyev sign the gas supply contract.

Ursula von der Leyen (left) and Ilham Aliyev sign the gas supply contract.Image: IMAGO/Xinhua

Ilham Aliyev, the autocratic president of Azerbaijan, accepted this with grudging teeth and has been plotting revenge ever since. And at a distance from Moscow. In mid-July he signed in Baku a gas supply contract with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. It was a kind of virtual middle finger to Vladimir Putin.

Kazakhstan at a distance too

With Russia’s weakness in Ukraine, Aliev apparently saw an opportunity to settle his “score” with the Armenians. It may also have played a role in the conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as Russia previously had around 1,500 soldiers transferred from a Tajik military base to Ukraine.

Kazakhstan, the largest landlocked country in the world in terms of area, is also increasingly distancing itself from Moscow. A large Russian-speaking minority lives in the north, fueling fears of a Ukraine scenario. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is therefore trying to get closer to China. At the same time he offers oil and gas to Europe.

reservations instead of support

Putin’s waning influence was particularly evident at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Instead of receiving support for the Ukraine war, he heard reservations. He had to publicly admit that China’s President Xi Jinping had “questions and concerns” about the course of the war.

Xi also kept his distance from Putin in other ways. He made no mention of Ukraine and made no attempt to support the Russians in the “special operation”. Putin was practically paraded at the meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He emphasized in front of the camera that “today is not a time of war”.

distortion of facts

Putin, embarrassed, remained silent and attempted in his reply to blame the slaughter on the Ukrainians. They had “unfortunately” decided to achieve their goals through military means. The Russian head of state probably doesn’t know who he wants to impress with this blatant distortion of facts.

The rapid loss of authority by the “macho president” is remarkable. It does not mean that his power is under imminent threat. But when Alla Pugacheva rebels and former Soviet republics exploit his weakness, things don’t look good.

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