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Jasmine Legendre

March 22, 2024

  • Europe

With 87% of the vote in the presidential election, Vladimir Putin secured a strong mandate for the next six years. What will be the consequences, particularly on the invasion of Ukraine ? Is a ceasefire still realistic ? Interview with Guillaume Sauvé, Russia specialist at the Center for International Studies and Research from the University of Montreal (CERIUM).

Are we seeing the same results in the diaspora ?

The vote of Russians abroad is lower for Putin, but still important. Many favor him and his main program element, which is, as he calls it, the “special military operation,” that is, the war against Ukraine. We can distinguish countries where Russian immigration is recent, protest immigration, particularly since the invasion. For example, in France, Germany, the Netherlands, it is [Vladislav Davankov], candidate “of the false opposition”, but considered the most liberal, who finishes first. While in other countries, where immigration is older, where Russians have been there since Soviet times (for example in Estonia or Lithuania), Putin finishes first.

This gives us an idea of ​​what the vote in Russia would perhaps look like if it was not distorted: still a good score for Putin, but not sure that he would have a majority, or just a little.

Can Russians Abroad Fear Retaliation ?

Yes. For the moment, the regime has not made a very clear gesture, but there is a model in this area: Belarus. Lukashenko's regime is even harsher than that of Russia, including the persecution of Belarusians abroad. There's this bad joke circulating in Russian circles about the fact that Belarusians and Russians watch the same TV series… but the Russians are two seasons behind.

In Yekaterinburg, Russia, a woman who also has American citizenship was incarcerated on charges of supporting terrorism because she supported a Ukrainian humanitarian organization. It sends a very, very strong signal to exiled Russians, who often return home to see their families.

Should we expect Putin to redouble his efforts on the war in Ukraine ?

Yes. We can expect many things, such as a partial conscription, after that of September 2022. It was very unpopular, but now, after these elections, why not ? It is certain that the war will continue. The entire Russian economy has been reoriented towards a war economy. The regime has organized itself to wage a war of attrition, of attrition. From Russia's point of view, short of a revolution – which seems very unlikely – this is here to stay. And probably there will be more and more resources that will be put in.

Do we have figures on public support ?

We are lucky to still have reliable polling houses. Like the Levada Center, which can hardly be accused of being Putinist because its people themselves are accused of being foreign agents in Russia and are subject to persecution. Why does the regime allow an independent polling house ? Probably because it itself needs to have reliable figures, not just information to please itself.

It’s been pretty stable since the invasion: 73% support for the war, which is very high. Behind this figure are actually several things. When Russians are asked “Are you in favor of the war in Ukraine ?”, they know very well that in today's political context, the war in Ukraine is Putinism. Therefore, what is mixed in these issues is support for the war and support for Putin. What is really interesting are the studies of independent Russian sociologists. For example, the Russians are asked “Would you agree with Vladimir Putin if he now decided to end the war without having achieved our objectives ?”, so for Putin, but against the war . And we then obtain a majority of favorable results.

So they are favorable to Putin, to the decisions he will make…

We realize that Russian public opinion is divided into three parts. There are about 15 to 20 percent against the war, against Putin. So people who say it openly when asked, which is a lot, but it remains a minority. Then we have 15 to 20% for war, including if it is to contradict Putin. They would be against him if he ended the war. These are the famous Z movement, the paramilitary, patriotic movements, the warmongers, etc. And in the middle there are people who support Putin, but not the war. But since the war is going with Putin, they trust him, either out of sincere support, or out of cognitive dissonance (they can't think that the country they love is doing this), or out of indifference.

Where are we in the war objectives ?

Putin is never precise. It's great for him, because he can say at any point that he's achieved the goals, because they're so vague. The two objectives of the war in Ukraine, officially, are demilitarization and denazification. Originally, that probably meant: in three days, overthrow the kyiv regime, put in a puppet regime that supports Putin. There's very little chance of that happening, so from that point of view it's a failure.

Afterwards, if the goal is to preserve leverage to influence Ukraine's policy and prevent it from becoming a military threat to Russia, there are failures and successes. If the goal is to prevent NATO enlargement, it is a dismal failure since NATO is strengthening like never before in Europe. The success, for Putin, is that he occupies a good part of the territory, and Ukraine is mired in a conflict which is bleeding it dry. She is paralyzed.

How Russia's allies are positioned ?

Russia does not have many allies, but people who help it with their indifference. The real allies are North Korea, which will bring munitions, Iran, with drones and the signing in December of a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union. Chinese leaders speak of unwavering friendship, but there is no military aid, it is political. For India, it is economic aid. It started buying Russian oil and then re-exports it to Europe. She makes a lot of money. For them and other countries, since the war in Ukraine is not their war, if there is money to be made, if it is beneficial to their interests, they will do it.

Are there any blind spots that aren't being covered enough in this conflict ?

What I miss in the journalistic coverage is the domestic politics of the two countries concerned. We always hear about Putin and Zelensky, but these countries are huge.

In Ukraine, if we wanted to take one of the major aspects of Zelensky's speech seriously — that Ukraine is more democratic and more pluralistic — it would be fun to hear divergent voices. The year 2022 was one of patriotic rallying behind Zelensky, but it is starting to crack. There is criticism of the way the news is covered, in relation to conscription, corruption issues, the leadership of the general staff. Lots of things should interest us, because it is the future of Ukraine that is at stake. Not to judge whether it is good or bad, but to understand what is happening there at the moment.

While in Russia, access is more difficult…

Obviously, the fight is much less open. There are forms of resistance, but they are essentially individual. Like these people who are going to pay tribute to Navalny. There is the protest movement of wives and mothers of soldiers, which has been quite impressive in recent months. But it is much more subject to repression than in Ukraine and much more difficult for foreign journalists to access, especially when they come from countries that are officially “unfriendly” from Russia's point of view, such as Canada.

You spoke of a war of attrition. What could end this conflict ?

One, it would be a total victory. But it's not very clear what that means. I find it hard to believe that conquering all of Ukraine would really be a realistic goal. Russia does not even have the resources to control a country of such large size and population. The whole bet of the invasion, at the beginning, was that the Ukrainian population would welcome the Russians with flowers. Small error of judgment here. Putin thought it would be easy. From his point of view, I think the best thing would be to force Ukraine into a ceasefire. Peace is unthinkable, given the level of hostility between the two peoples and the lack of trust on both sides. What would be realistic, for him, would be a ceasefire on his terms, i.e. a deterioration of the current situation with the entire Donbass (including Mariupol), Crimea and southern Ukraine under Russian control. . So a Ukraine amputated for a very long time. That would be a big victory for Vladimir Putin.

Do you think this is a realistic scenario ?

Yes, unfortunately, if Western countries, in particular the United States, following a certain election that we are all following with interest, withdrew their support from Ukraine. Also given the changing mood inside Ukraine, where a short-term victory is becoming less and less realistic. It is not impossible that we are indeed moving towards a ceasefire.

This interview has been edited for brevity.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116