Opinion

6 December 2022, 12:10 PM

After Kherson: What signal is Putin sending to the West

Vitaliy Portnikov

Journalist

There are no political threats to the Kremlin regime stemming from further hostilities in Ukraine.

When Lyman was lost, there was only one director responsible, there were protests, and statements that General Alexander Lapin should be demoted. Now, when General Surovikin has decided that Russia should leave Kherson, and that we should put everything under his control, commentary is completely unanimously in favor of it, and everyone is happy. Everyone says what a hero General Surovikin is doing well. And they compare that Surovikin left Kherson with the way Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov left Moscow. Therefore, we see that there are no political threats for the Kremlin regime (in terms of further hostilities in Ukraine).

The fact that so-called military correspondents write about betrayal оn major pro-Kremlin Telegram channels does not matter in a totalitarian country. This is because the opinion of society about the actions of the authorities does not matter; it only matters how effective the security apparatus is. Therefore, any withdrawal of troops from any territory will have no significance. You just have to understand and put up with it.

I assure you that even if an army was now entering Vladivostok, and another was entering Belgorod, there would also be explanations why this is so good and why Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin should be thanked for this – after all, at least the enemy isn’t in Moscow! I can write you 55 different explanations why all of this is being done as it should.

So in this situation, I am absolutely calm about the fate of the Kremlin regime and of Vladimir Vladimirovich himself. He has managed to create such an effective security apparatus over the years.

The surrender of Kherson could be a signal to the West:

“We are showing goodwill, announcing that we are even leaving a certain territory, which means that we are ready for negotiations. And the Ukrainians are not ready for negotiations. Well, sorry, then we are forced to continue our actions destroying Ukrainian infrastructure. Let's go convince Ukrainians to accept at least what they can get now.” There may indeed be such a view in the Kremlin. I am not ready to delve into these rather fanciful ideas they might have.

The question is not even about leaving Kherson, that the United States wants to work with its allies and with its political elite, some of which say there can be no open check for Ukraine. And for this, it must be shown that Ukraine is being constructive and reasonable in its relations with Russia.

We are well aware that no signals from Ukraine will force the Russian Federation to really come to the negotiating table.

Even when I hear Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrey Rudenko, who says that the Russian Federation is ready for negotiations with Ukraine without any preconditions, I always ask: what does it mean without preconditions? In any case, Russia would like to fix the status quo in place – that is, with Ukraine recognizing the Russian claim on Crimea, Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporozhiya Oblasts, at least within the borders that are currently controlled by Russian occupation forces. And this speaks of the preconditions under which Russia would like to negotiate today with an essentially “circumcised” Ukraine.

So I understand the American position.

People ask me how Putin will continue to sell the idea to the people that this war needs to continue. Understand that Putin does not need to sell anything to anyone. This is a KGB-ifed, predatory state without any ideology, and they earn money for themselves. They have ideas that this war is really a correction of the mistake of 1991 – that is, the restoration of the territorial integrity of the former Soviet Union under the Russian Federation. But the population here plays an auxiliary role: these are not voters, but rather simply objects.

They generally perceive everything objectively, not subjectively. They do not perceive Ukraine as a subject, do they? No, they want to negotiate over it. It’s a territory –in their view a Russian territory– over which they want to come to an agreement with the United States: what part of this Russian territory Russia will get, and what part they won’t. This is their negotiating partner.

And Russia does not need to come to any agreements with their own population. They told them that Putin would have four terms, so thus he would have four terms. Should it be decided that it would not be Putin in charge, but instead Medvedev and Patrushev, then Medvedev and Patrushev it will be. Should it be determined that Patrushev should stand on the shoulders of Medvedev and lead the Russian Federation in this form – well then, great, a brilliant idea, the President should stand on the shoulders of the Deputy Chairman of the Security Council, and it will look beautiful. Why even bother selling this to anyone?

Some say that the figure of Yevgeny Prigozhin is growing stronger, that he is actually creating a parallel army, and that this can lead to something. And I think that Prigozhin is the same animation as all the other animations in the Russian authorities. They really want to create a Praetorian Guard that will be controlled from the same center as everyone else – from the FSB.

Prigozhin is part of the FSB, just a bit different. Perhaps there is an idea to channel this so-called veterans' movement – people who will return from the front, they will have nothing to do, and so they will be recruited into this so-called Putin's army, so that they are just another additional force. There will be another part of the security apparatus, which will ensure the interests of the authorities if any protest moods start spreading. They are always afraid that these sentiments will arise. In principle, they have been living in anticipation of an Arab Spring or something else for a long time, 20 years, and they have been preparing resources for this.

By the way, I don't think they are wrong. If they want to keep power in such an idiotic way, they need a big security apparatus, lest Prigozhin create another of his factions.

The Russian state was not even created by Putin, but back in the 1990s. Its form simply became evident in the 2000s. This is the state of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation. It is the backbone organization. All other structures play a supporting role – from the Ministry of Defense to the Central Bank. And there can be no struggle there.

Could a fight start within the FSB itself? Perhaps it could. There have always been and will always be factions. To what extent are these factions ready to unite around the figure of Putin? We see that they are ready. Could they unite tomorrow around the figure of Patrushev or Bortnikov? It could be.

But the essence of this does not change: the FSB fully controls the entire political, economic, and social situation in Russia. There will be no real struggle in Russia over this until the FSB loses power. So far, there are no objective prerequisites for this.

Kremlinologists may be trying to understand how decisions are made in Russia. However, it seems to me that this sort of contemplation is totally unserious, because Putin, Patrushev, and Bortnikov are the three directors of the FSB. It seems that Patrushev and Bortnikov do not need to persuade Putin of anything, and Putin does not need to persuade Patrushev and Bortnikov of anything.

These people are like-minded people who have been working together for a long time and who share a common idea of the world. To see this, it is enough to compare Patrushev's interview with Putin's statements. Bortnikov is a less public figure, but I am sure that he holds exactly the same views. They act collaboratively.

I can imagine that someone from among these may come to replace Putin. In any system, there is a replacement of the leader if it is believed that the leader has ceased to balance the interests of the main players. But the question arises: how different will this new person be from Putin?

Now in Russia, a gerontocracy is already brewing. In fact, these people are already nearing 70 years old. But considering that now we are witnessing the world of political veterans in general, not just in Russia, I do not think that this is of such great importance. So you shouldn't think that I'm looking for some kind of successor to Putin. I think that Putin, who is 70 years old, if his health allows, can lead the Russian Federation for another 10-15 years.

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