Discreet and loyal: the national response to the reinforcement of Russian troops | Russia
Russia’s buildup of a potential invasion force on Ukraine’s borders has prompted little reaction in the country despite Western threats of devastating economic consequences that would harm tycoons, big businessmen and the big public.
Since 2014, recurring rounds of sanctions relating to the annexation of Crimea, the downing of the MH17 airliner, interference in the 2016 US elections, the Salisbury poisonings, the attempted assassination of Alexei Navalny and other international scandals have strengthened the elite of Vladimir Putin’s supporters and prepared them for the worst.
Many tripped over themselves to publicly show their loyalty to the Kremlin during the 2014 crisis, despite crippling sanctions as a result. “You have to pay for everything in life, including knowing [Putin]said Gennady Timchenko, a billionaire friend of the sanctioned Russian president in March 2014, in an interview with state media.
Behind closed doors, businessmen and high-level officials scramble to stay loyal in the face of personal sanctions. “Our country is under sanctions. And the president is alone on the parapet,” said Vladimir Yakunin, then head of Russian Railways, in leaked minutes of a heated committee meeting in 2014 on whether to integrate the teams of Crimean football in the Russian league – a decision some feared to win. personal penalties.
After eight years of persistent conflict with the West, the elite and the public seem largely resigned to the path chosen by Putin in his quest to assert his dominance over Ukraine.
Despite signs pointing to greater conflict, polls and anecdotal evidence indicate that many Russians do not feel the threat of war as intensely.
“This conversation about war is more on the Western side,” Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said in a TV interview this week. “On the Russian side, there is none of that. There is no sense of an impending war in Ukraine. But the military pressure is certainly there, and the military pressure will certainly continue; military pressure may increase.
Russia has positioned more than 50 tactical battalion groups – almost a third of its total – within striking range of Ukraine. More main battle tanks and other armored vehicles were filmed departing the Russian Far East on flatbed wagons, indicating the buildup continues even as high-stakes negotiations were underway in Europe this week. Senior Russian officials said the talks were at an impasse.
“I see no reason to sit down, call another meeting and start the same discussion again in the next few days,” said Sergei Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister who represented Russia in the talks this week. week with the United States in Geneva. He demanded that the United States present concrete counter-proposals, otherwise Russia would be forced to ensure its security by other means.
While the Kremlin has delivered bombastic rhetoric blaming the West for the conflict, there has not been an outburst of nationalism similar to that which followed the annexation of Crimea. “We don’t see a lot of enthusiasm…the government’s ratings continue to drop, despite the possibility of a full-scale confrontation,” said Denis Volkov of the independent center Levada.
The events of March 2014 also energized opponents of the clash with Ukraine, a part of the Russian opposition that was likely to openly oppose the growing conflict in Ukraine. Liberals “are appalled by President Vladimir Putin’s warmongering, and they very strongly condemn the Kremlin’s revanchism, but the situation in Ukraine itself is not the focus of their conversation,” wrote journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina. borogan.
Ultimately, there is little domestic politics to prevent Putin from going to war in Ukraine if he chooses.
The Kremlin has spent years preparing for a broader economic conflict with the West, including hoarding massive cash reserves that would insulate it from the economic shock of new US sanctions. And as the experience of 2014 shows, its powerful oligarchs will also have to shoulder their burden in the coming conflict.
“Personal inconvenience and cost to his business can and should be overlooked when it comes to state interests,” Timchenko said in the interview. “There can be no compromise here.”