Political Crisis in Russia? A Look Through the Russian Media

Ivan Sichen

 

 

Analysis of the course of Russia’s war against Ukraine confirms its actual transition to a protracted positional phase with active fighting only on certain sections of the front. In turn, this creates critical problems for Moscow, which is in fact at a dead end. Thus, increasing the combat strength of Ukraine’s Defense Forces, including the acquisition of heavy weapons, allows them to deter Russian troops, and in some cases go on the offensive. Under such conditions, Russia is forced to attract additional resources for the war against Ukraine, wasting time, which exacerbates the negative effects of sanctions on the Russian economy. Such tendencies are deepening the rift in Russia’s ruling elite between those who support the continuation of the war against Ukraine and those who are in favor of ending it sooner. Besides, tensions are rising in the Russian society and among servicemen involved in the war against Ukraine. All this is increasingly covered by the Russian media.

 

…Russia’s central media are openly critical of the Kremlin’s policy…

We have already touched upon this topic in previous publications. However, the considered processes are being further developed, which requires clarification of the estimates made. First of all, this concerns the appearance in the central media of Russia of openly critical comments on the Kremlin’s policy, which personally mention Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. In addition, the negative effects of Western sanctions on the Russian economy are recognized. They also point out Russia’s being unable to stop Ukraine’s counteroffensive, let alone to win over Ukraine without general mobilization and the transition of Russia’s defense industry to wartime production.

Russia’s local media have so far refrained from criticizing the central government’s policy and keep showing some loyalty to it. At the same time, the number of reports on the economic problems of the regions and the decline in living standards of their population is increasing. Despite the strict censorship and a ban on disclosing information about the losses of Russian troops, articles began to appear about escalating tensions in the military environment, and the publication of obituaries of Russian servicemen killed in Ukraine has resumed.

Despite the Russian FSB’s full control of the Russian information space, the media that publish articles of this content are not actually persecuted. Moreover, as we have written before, critical and negative assessments of these issues are spread by the media, which are under the “roof” of the Russian secret services.

…Critical and negative assessments are spread by the media, which are under the “roof” of the Russian secret services…

First of all, we should mention Nezavisimaya Gazeta, connected with the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation and former director of the FSB N. Patrushev. Given that he is considered Putin’s most likely successor as President of the Russian Federation, Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s publication of articles that contradict the Kremlin’s official policy is highly illustrative. Especially when their authors are famous and respected people, or the editor’s office of the newspaper.

Given the situation in Russia in the context of its war against Ukraine and the critical aggravation of its relations with the West, the reasons for these changes in the Russian information space may be:

  • the actions of certain circles in the ruling elite of Russia to prepare public opinion for the change in the ruling regime of the country due to Putin’s death or inability to perform presidential duties because of serious illness. At this, the possibility of shifting onto him the full responsibility for all Russia’s problems, including those related to the war against Ukraine and the confrontation with the West, is not ruled out;
  • attempts by Russian oligarchs and Russian security officials to put pressure on Putin to change his policy, which are no longer in their interests. For example, most oligarchs have suffered significant losses and other problems. In turn, Russia’s military command and security officials have accused Putin of failing a “special operation” in Ukraine and are subject to various punishments. Under such circumstances, a revolt against Putin may be quite likely. After the overthrow of his rule, it is he who will be blamed for all Russia’s problems;
  • the struggle between various groups in the Russian government and oligarchic circles for control over the occupied Ukrainian territories and their resources. Western experts mention three of these groups, led by former Prime Minister S. Kiriyenko, State Duma Speaker V. Volodin and Deputy Head of the Security Council D. Medvedev. In the course of competition between them, all parties may use media close to them to discredit and weaken each other’s positions;
  • the Russian authorities’ studying the attitude of the country’s population to the possibility of ending the war against Ukraine by Moscow on certain conditions. In this case, based on the results obtained, appropriate decisions will be made.

The first and second versions are fully in line with historical Russian traditions. The second and third may take place, but it is unlikely that anyone in Russian government will publicly criticize Putin’s policy for these purposes.

…In Russia, the process of power transformation has probably begun…

Therefore, in Russia, the process of power transformation has probably begun, which may take the form of a planned transfer of Putin’s presidency to another person, including N. Patrushev, or the preparation and implementation of a revolt by a group of people in Russia’s ruling elite.

As we know from history, the change of power in Russia may result in the preservation of stability in the country or its sharp destabilization, for example: Troubled times after the death of Tsar Ivan the Terrible in 1598; the collapse of the Russian Empire due to the Bolshevik coup in 1917; disintegration of the USSR in 1991 after an attempt by rebels from the so-called State Committee on the State of Emergency to seize power in the country.

The same awaits today’s Russia if it continues the war against Ukraine, which Moscow obviously cannot win. Especially in the face of confrontation with the entire civilized world, which already understands a reasonable part of the Russian ruling elite. Evidence was the statement of N. Patrushev from June 15, 2022, on “Russia’s being interested in reaching political and diplomatic agreements with Ukraine as soon as possible, which would allow the cessation of hostilities”. It can be assessed in different ways. However, it is noteworthy that the statement was made on the day of the meeting of Ukraine’s partners in the Rammstein-3 format at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, as a result of which a decision was made to continue arms supplies to our country.

 

…Putin has become an autocrat who makes individual decisions on all key issues of the country’s policy…

In support of these assumptions, we would like to cite key theses of Russian central media publications that contradict the policy of the Russian government and have been published recently. The most significant of these are the editorials of Nezavisimaya Gazeta — “On the Reputational Consequences of Calls for a Revision of Post-Soviet Decisions” and “In the Power of Muddy Intuition. Autocratic Russia Is Losing the Instinct of Self-Preservation”, by O. Tsupko, Doctor of Philosophy, Chief Research Fellow at the Institute of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences. By the way, his article was republished on the day of Putin’s speech at the plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 17, 2022.

The following theses were outlined in the above-mentioned and other publications:

  • responsibility for all Russia’s problems rests with Putin, who has in fact become an autocrat and makes individual decisions on all key issues of the country’s policy. It was he who ordered the attack on Ukraine;
  • no country in Europe in its history has given so many lives in the name of crazy ideas. In 1917, a Bolshevik coup took place to implement such ideas, which led to the collapse of the Russian Empire and millions of victims among its population. Now such an adventure is Moscow’s actions to revive the “Russian world”, for which it is once again making human sacrifices and is ready to bury country’s economy;
  • the current government of Russia is unable to adequately assess the situation, the country’s capabilities and the consequences of their actions. An example of this was the Kremlin’s groundless hopes for a quick victory over Ukraine and that the Ukrainian population would “welcome the Russian army with flowers”. Only people who have lost their sense of reality could count on it;
  • the consequences of the “special operation” were completely unexpected for Moscow. Instead of “denationalizing” Ukraine, it led to the emergence of a Ukrainian political nation that united the Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking populations of the country on the basis of a common opposition to Russia;
  • Western sanctions have already caused significant damage to the Russian economy, which is beginning to become systemic. At this, the Russian government cannot effectively overcome sanctions, as a result of which the economic situation in the country will deteriorate;
  • NATO’s new massive supply of heavy weapons will enable Ukraine to counterattack. To curb such actions by the Ukrainian army, Russia will be forced to increase arms production, as well as conduct general mobilization, which will require additional costs. However, in the current situation in Russia, this is an extremely difficult problem to resolve.

Based on these estimates, in fact, several conclusions are drawn, namely:

  • attempts to restore the USSR have no prospects. Therefore, the aggressive rhetoric of some Russian politicians, in particular, Dmitry Medvedev, as well as calls by State Duma MPs to revise the post-Soviet world order only reinforce the impression of unpredictability in Russia, but in no way contribute to its security;
  • the activities of so-called Russian patriots have negative consequences for Russia. They are not doing anything for the Russian people and improving the country, but trying to resolve world problems, spread the “Russian world” and teach others how to live;
  • if Moscow does not stop the policy of tightening the screws, intimidating freedom of thought and speech, conducting anti-human aggression, especially against Ukraine, the Russian society will simply degenerate as a nation;
  • Putin cannot be called a Russian or an Orthodox man. Because such a person would not be indifferent to the death of thousands of Russians. As a result, he lost the right to be the leader of the Russian nation. Had Yeltsin’s successor been not him, but some other person, Russia would not have today’s problems.

 

…The current government of Russia is unable to adequately assess the situation, the country’s capabilities and the consequences of their actions…

In fact, these theses are confirmed in the publications of regional media, although they mostly relate to regional issues. In this regard, the most interesting are the articles of the mass media of Russia’s regions bordering on Ukraine, which directly feel the consequences of the war. In particular, the mentioned media cover the following problematic issues:

  • the local population is increasingly suffering from the deterioration of the national and regional economies. Many people are able to meet only their basic needs;
  • more and more enterprises are starting to close in the regions and unfinished constructions are being preserved; both federal and regional programs and infrastructure projects are being curtailed;
  • Bryansk, Kursk and Belgorod regions of Russia actually became frontline zones, and the war has spread to their territory. The same threatens Voronezh and Rostov regions;
  • local medical institutions are unable to provide decent treatment for Russian servicemen who were injured in the fighting in Ukraine due to the massive increase in their number. This leads to increased tensions in the military environment, where calls are already being made to “return home with weapons and sort things out”;
  • in south-western regions of Russia there is a growing risk of an epidemic of cholera, plague and other diseases that need immediate response.

Of course, for now, critical coverage of Russia’s central and local media on the policy and actions of the country’s ruling elite is rather the exception to the rule. However, in Russian realities they are significant.

 

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