Drone attacks in Moscow, shelling of Russian border regions – more and more people in their own country are feeling the echo of Kremlin chief Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The criticism of his warfare is loud.
Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine literally blows him in the face. It was not until May that drones flew over the President’s official residence – the air defense system shot them down. A few days ago, the capital Moscow experienced the first major drone attack since the beginning of the war.
In Russian regions on the border with Ukraine, people are running for their lives because of massive shelling. Rail partisans carry out attacks against railway systems in order to sabotage the supply of war material. There are always big fires in the country. But Commander-in-Chief Putin is demonstrating composure even after a bloody 15-month invasion of Ukraine, pretending that nothing earth-shattering is happening.
“Of course I sleep,” Putin said during a video call with families on International Children’s Day on Thursday. He needs six hours of sleep. Only on this day the night was short. Then Putin’s military again fired drones and rockets at the Ukrainian capital Kiev. A child also died. But Putin’s short night had other reasons.
Massive attacks on Russian border region
The Russian border region of Belgorod again experienced massive attacks from the Ukrainian side. A house caught fire. People fled – and since then have complained that state television shows only a fraction of the destruction and is hiding the truth. Residents finally demanded “protection” from the state. Because Putin is waging war against Ukraine and cannot even guarantee the security of his own territory, the anger of many patriotic Russians is growing noticeably. For many, the war was far away for a long time. Now it’s burned into people’s heads.
“The attacks in Belgorod finally destroyed the myth of the invincibility of Putin’s military,” says political scientist Abbas Galliamov. For many Russians, the belief in the strength of Russian weapons has always been the most important argument in war. Galliamov believes that nothing causes the power apparatus to lose its footing more than its inability to protect people.
Violence breaks out almost every day
Putin, on the other hand, has his spokesman Dmitry Peskov say at most that the situation in the region is “alarming” but under control. The Ministry of Defense promptly announces the “destruction” of dozens of saboteurs and “terrorists”. But the situation remains tense. Violence breaks out almost every day. There are several dead and injured.
Criticism of warfare as a whole has long been growing – including from celebrities. The former head of the Russian space agency Roskosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, is demanding new waves of mobilization. Putin’s confidants Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Chechen republic, and the head of Wagner’s private army, Yevgeny Prigozhin, are urgently calling for the imposition of martial law in order to crack down. They warn of a Russian defeat in the war with devastating consequences for the whole country.
Prigozhin also stressed that a switch to a war economy would be necessary if Russia wanted to win. In addition to the Wagner mercenaries, other Russian private armies stand ready to take the war to a new level. The ultra-nationalist and former secret service officer Igor Girkin, known as Strelkov, complains about increasing “war chaos” – also with regard to the power struggles between Prigozhin and the Ministry of Defense. Again and again Wagner boss attested Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valeri Gerasimov “incompetence”.
The next election firmly in view
But Putin is silent and hesitates. Kremlin spokesman Peskov emphasizes everywhere that neither martial law nor a new mobilization are currently being discussed. Russia will achieve all war goals. Millions of Russians stand behind Putin and the “special military operation,” claims Peskov. That can hardly be measured.
Putin and the power apparatus have long seen themselves at war with the “collective West” led by the United States, which aims to destroy Russia and is only using Ukraine as a battlefield. According to experts, this story could carry Putin through to the presidential election, because the confrontation with the West has traditionally caught on with many Russians. Politicians outside the Kremlin party are already speaking out in favor of Putin’s new candidacy in March 2024.
Independent observers, on the other hand, believe that Putin has lost touch with reality and is also avoiding trips abroad because an international arrest warrant for war crimes is in force. Putin can be seen again and again at medals. It honors courageous fighters and deserving mothers. For services to space travel, he just founded the Yuri Gagarin Order in memory of the first Russian in space. And recently, when asked by a child, he said that Ded Moros, the Russian Santa Claus, “of course exists” – and that he is more important than himself.
“Apparently Putin fears no consequences”
Political scientist Tatyana Stanovaya says that Putin hardly ever talks about strategic issues anymore. The Kremlin’s line is not to become alarmist under any circumstances, in order to prevent unrest or panic in society. “That’s why it’s better to remain silent,” says Stanovaya. The Kremlin not only controls the media – and thus has the authority to interpret events such as the Ukrainian attacks. Putin continues to rely on the “patience of the Russian people,” on their steadfastness and solidarity. “No matter how severe the Ukrainian attacks are, Putin is convinced that they cannot provoke dissatisfaction with the power apparatus.”
It is naïve to expect a change of course in Russia, says Stanovaya. “Putin’s plan is to wait for deep changes in the West and in Ukraine, which he believes are only a matter of time.” The fear of the announced Ukrainian counter-offensive recedes into the background. Putin can live with individual local defeats, she says.
Rather, the Kremlin is counting on Ukraine ultimately failing militarily, on the elites splitting and the chances of Kiev capitulating increasing — and on the West also reducing its military and political support. Does sitting out the problem and inaction have any consequences? “Apparently Putin is not afraid of the consequences,” says Stanovaya. Another question is whether he is right about that. “We will see.”