Vladimir Putin self-destructing

I am not caught up.



Wagner mutiny

Fig. 1. Yevgeny Prigozhin. Screen capture from video by УлПравда ТВ, June 13, 2023, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0.

A few days ago, I concluded that “[Vladimir] Putin is not, in fact, in control of the Russian government, even within the Kremlin, let alone outside it.”[1]

It was not [Vladimir] Putin but the “collective Putin” (a mystical figure including, among others, Alexander Lukashenko, the dictator of Belarus) that decided the outcome of the crisis. Putin the individual was irate and humiliated by Wagner’s betrayal and went on TV threatening “to be harsh”. But the “collective Putin” concluded that it would be wiser to negotiate with the rebels and find an exit strategy. We now know Putin met [Yevgeny] Prigozhin and other Wagner commanders on June 29. For someone obsessed with treason and betrayal, this was a bitter pill to swallow.

What has changed? Primarily, the relationship between Putin and the Russian elites. He now fears them no less than they fear him. He fears less their voice than their exit. Many of his closest collaborators blame him personally for the current state of affairs. It was Putin’s decision to instrumentalise the competition between Wagner and the defence ministry that ultimately led to Wagner’s march towards Moscow.[2]

Does Putin in fact have something to fear from Russian elites? Perhaps. I’m thinking that isn’t actually the important question, that we should rather ask whether Putin does fear the elites, for it will be the fear that drives his decision making rather than the substance or absence thereof behind that fear.

From the beginning of the Ukraine war, there have been questions about Putin’s sanity, his grasp of reality. There is an entire concocted history to justify the invasion. There is the striking divergence between how the war is going and his war aims even before we get to “Peter the Great” delusions of grandeur. There has been his increasing reclusiveness and seeming disdain for competence in favor of loyalty. It’s all been quite thoroughly insane, but there has been a peculiar refusal, despite the delusions, despite even the nuclear threats, to accept that Putin is indeed bonkers.[3] I think we might be seeing an actual crack-up now.

I’m thinking that, if so, this will not be the end of the Putin regime that anyone foresaw. It will not substantively be a coup that does him in, though there might be one as an instrument to remove him from power. It will not be his death, though that’s certainly been earnestly hoped for and of course could happen at any time. Principally, Putin’s end will be Putin self-destructing.

Nicolas Camut, “Putin met Prigozhin in Moscow after Wagner mutiny,” Politico, July 10, 2023, https://www.politico.eu/article/vladimir-putin-met-wagner-group-yevgeny-prigozhin-moscow-after-mutiny/

Matthew Luxmoore, “Wagner Leader Prigozhin Met With Putin Days After Aborted Revolt,” Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/wagner-leader-prigozhin-met-with-putin-days-after-aborted-revolt-kremlin-says-f10e2f1d

Ivan Krastev, “There is now a ‘collective Putin’ in the Kremlin,” Financial Times, July 11, 2023, https://www.ft.com/content/9a7d8d5f-a332-41e8-9845-db805dfc7ed4


Donald Trump

Hush money

Fig. 2. Cartoon by Jesse Duquette, undated, via “Minneapple23” [pseud.] on Imgur, April 1, 2023, fair use.

Kara Scannell, “DOJ no longer believes Trump should have immunity from E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit,” Cable News Network, July 11, 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/07/11/politics/trump-carroll-justice-department-immunity/index.html

Abortion, reproductive freedom and health

Fig. 3. Sign at demonstration in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, May 3, 2022. Janni Rye, via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, Rachel Roubein, and Kelsey Ables, “GOP-controlled Iowa legislature votes to ban abortion after about six weeks,” Washington Post, July 12, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2023/07/11/iowa-abortion-ban-vote/

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Vladimir Putin is weak and pathetic,” Irregular Bullshit, July 6, 2023, https://disunitedstates.com/2023/07/06/vladimir-putin-is-weak-and-pathetic/
  2. [2]Ivan Krastev, “There is now a ‘collective Putin’ in the Kremlin,” Financial Times, July 11, 2023, https://www.ft.com/content/9a7d8d5f-a332-41e8-9845-db805dfc7ed4
  3. [3]Max Boot, “Putin is trapped in a quagmire and doesn’t know how to get out,” Washington Post, May 9, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/05/09/putin-victory-day-russia-ukraine-quagmire/; Isaac Chotiner, “The Purges in Putin’s Shrinking Inner Circle,” New Yorker, March 22, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/the-purges-in-putins-shrinking-inner-circle; Julian O’Shaughnessy, “I’m reconquering just like Peter the Great, insists Vladimir Putin,” Times, June 10, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/president-putin-creates-police-department-to-impose-martial-law-xqhlt79fn; David Remnick, “The Weakness of the Despot,” New Yorker, March 11, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/stephen-kotkin-putin-russia-ukraine-stalin; Reuters, “Hailing Peter the Great, Putin draws parallel with mission to ‘return’ Russian lands,” June 9, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/hailing-peter-great-putin-draws-parallel-with-mission-return-russian-lands-2022-06-09/

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