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What to expect from Vladimir Putin's next term

Photo: Sergei Bobylyov Sputnik Agence France-Presse With the illusion of a strong mandate, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has free rein to keep his country at war.

Fabien Deglise

March 23, 2024 Analysis

  • Europe

If the election of Vladimir Putin last Sunday, following a vote written in advance, was more than predictable, the outcome is much less so.< /p>

Now carried by the illusion of massive support for his regime, firmly anchored at the top of the state for the next six years, into what post-electoral era is the Kremlin strongman preparing to bring Russia ? With what measures and what consequences for his country as well as for the rest of the world ? State of play.

A new wave of conscription

In his victory speech last Sunday evening, Vladimir Putin placed the invasion war in Ukraine — which he still semantically hides behind a “special military operation” — just like “the strengthening of defense capabilities of the country” among the main objectives of his next six years in power.

The tone is set. It could also be accompanied by a new wave of mobilization of soldiers to nourish the warlike fronts that it has opened in the former Soviet republic, as well as other fronts that it could be tempted to nourish in order to continue to puff out your chest in front of NATO countries.

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“The nature of the regime is currently undergoing a transformation,” a source close to the Kremlin summarized earlier this week in the pages of the Moscow Times. “War is becoming the raison d'être of its existence”, thereby transforming Russia from a “belligerent state” to a “state of war”.

Last December, Russian military officials set the table by announcing a major reorganization of the country's armed forces with, at the heart of the reforms, an age limit for conscription rising from 27 to 30. The measure, according to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, should make it possible to increase the strength of the Russian army by 30%, to 1.5 million men, an army whose needs are tragically increasing.

On the battlefield, the offensives of the generals, put under pressure by the general staff to block the Ukrainian counter-offensives in the occupied territories, can result in 1,000 deaths and injuries per day. Since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, 315,000 Russian troops have been killed or injured, according to a declassified US intelligence document filed before Congress last December. Under the circumstances, Vladimir Putin could be tempted to launch a campaign to produce 20,000 recruits per month during the year.

The strategy is necessary, but politically risky for the autocrat, whose orders to mobilize Russian youth, launched in September 2022, had exposed him to a wave of national protest.

“Vladimir Putin now has greater room for maneuver, after having crushed the opposition and solidified his hold on the regime during the last elections”, summarizes the specialist of the post-Soviet era and the rise of autocracies in Europe Luke March, joined by Le Devoirat the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. “So he can do some things that he was reluctant to do before, but still be cautious. »

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This text is published via our Perspectives section.

“If he enjoys broad support from the Russians, it is only because of a lack of other options,” he adds. And the commitment of its population to the war is far from total. If a new conscription was politically dangerous before the elections, it could therefore remain so today. He plays with this equation at his own risk. »

Vladimir Putin also knows how to navigate this kind of troubled water: in 2018, he waited three months after his election to announce an extremely unpopular pension reform.

Divide the West and threaten NATO

While the Russians were called to the polls last Sunday, Transnistria, a pro-Russian separatist region of Moldova, was falling into disarray, claiming to have been the victim of a kamikaze drone launched from Ukraine on the military base in Tiraspol, its capital.

The accusations were immediately rejected by the Moldovan government, close to the European Union, and described by the Ukrainian Security Council as a new “provocation” guided especially by Moscow in Transnistria in order to destabilize the Moldovan regime and lead to an escalation of its conflict with the West.

This is not the first time that the pro-Russian enclave, located between Moldova and the region of Odessa, in Ukraine – this strategic port city that the Kremlin forces have failed to conquer – has found itself at the heart Vladimir Putin's tactics to destabilize European countries. And it won't be the last.

“Russia has a long history of trying to divide and disorient the West, the EU and its neighbors,” says Luke March. It has been interfering in the Balkans for some time now, approaching the Baltic countries, acting on Moldova and will continue to do so as long as it does not feel constrained. And it could even step up its campaigns and threats to accompany possible decisive gains on the Ukrainian battlefield. »

The Russian military advantage against Ukraine seems more and more obvious in recent months, especially in the wake of a counter-offensive by Kiev forces which have failed to significantly move the front lines. . A framework amplified by the populist movements which manage to divide the great capitals of the free and democratic world on the aid to be given to Ukraine, and which thus reinforce the conquering ambitions of Vladimir Putin.

At the beginning of the month, the dictator said he was ready, on national television Rossiya 1, to use nuclear weapons against the West if he senses a threat against the State Russian, just after announcing Russia's withdrawal from the New Start treaty on nuclear disarmament concluded with the United States in 2010. Its deadline was scheduled for 2026.

Relations between the West and Russia are at their lowest level since the Cold War. But they could continue to collapse over the next few years of Vladimir Putin's presidency.

The autocrat finds a paradoxical interest in this degradation. It fuels a “belief that an escalation” with the West could lead to a de-escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, Pavel Luzin, senior researcher at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) and former advisor to Alexei Navalny, recently wrote. during the Russian opponent's campaign for the 2018 presidential election. By thus raising the temperature on Russia's borders with the rest of Europe, the dictator would seek to force the negotiation of peace with Ukraine while he finds himself in a position of strength. And in this context, “the prospect of a direct confrontation with NATO should not be underestimated,” continues Mr. Luzin.

Intrusions into privacy and wallets

From one war to another. Far from the Ukrainian front, Vladimir Putin could be tempted to open a new one within his country itself, by bringing abortion into the field of repression.

This is because the strong man of the Kremlin has been faced with a major demographic challenge since his arrival in power, and especially with a reduction in the number of births which accompanied his first 24 years at the head of the country. Mathematically, the population has stagnated since 2020 at 146.4 million, but that number includes Crimea's roughly 2.5 million residents, added to the count after Ukrainian territory was occupied since 2014.

In November, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, also called for the adoption of a law to condemn nationwide “incitement” to abortion among women, after two regions, Mordovia and Tver Oblast, adopted such measures. “If you learn to dissuade women from having abortions, the [birth rate] will immediately go up,” he said while speaking of Russia as a “huge country” with a “totally insufficient population.” .

Some 500,000 abortions were performed in Russia in 2022, which represents an “acute problem”, according to the Russian president, who, last January, praised large families, i.e. a couple with at least three children. The previous year, he signed an order that celebrated women who gave birth to more than 10 children, granting them the title “heroic mothers” coupled with a grant of 1 million rubles ($15,000). It could, now with a strong mandate expressed at the ballot box, step up measures aimed at limiting access to abortion clinics or even birth control medications.

These hard times should not only affect the freedom of women to dispose of their bodies, but also that of everyone to benefit from their money in a country at war which needs even more resources to continue its aggression against Ukraine. And it is through the revision of his taxes and the tightening of his budgets that Putin will do it.

New taxes ? Vladimir Putin has undoubtedly already almost announced them in his speech before the Duma last February, a sort of declaration of the broad outlines of his electoral program, in which he called on his government to “propose changes to the tax code.” He also spoke of a “more equitable distribution of the tax burden” between more or less wealthy individuals.

After flexible budgetary policies, despite the economic sanctions imposed by the West on the Kremlin, which contributed to the overheating of its economy, to shortages, to an increase in inflation and to an increase in interest rates by 7, 5% to 16% over the past year, the Russian government should continue to put its financial framework on a war footing, but otherwise.

Last fall, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov announced that national defense spending would reach 11 trillion rubles ($162 billion), a growth of 68 percent. compared to the previous year. A need for money, in Vladimir Putin's Russia, which certainly finds its answer in the tax base from which the strong man of the Kremlin is undoubtedly preparing to draw.

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