No one had any doubts, but to comply with the rules, on Friday, Russian leader Vladimir Putin made it official. He announced that will present himself as a candidate in the elections on March 17 to continue leading Russia. There is also no doubt that he will win and that, If his health allows – he is 71 years old – he will remain in power until 2036 as the Constitution that he himself reformed indicates.
Like everything that happens in Putin’s Russia, the announcement was made in an unorthodox way and marked by symbolism. According to the Russian state news agency Tassdid so during a military awards ceremony in the Kremlin, responding to a question posed by Artyom Zhogaa Russian military officer and official from Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine. “I’m not going to hide, I had different thoughts at different times,” Putin said. “But now you are right, the time has come to make a decision,” he said. “I will run for president of Russia.”
Putin has led Russia as president or prime minister since 1999. And despite the initial failure of the invasion of neighboring Ukraine, maintains its power thanks to the high price of oil and the well-oiled internal machinery of repression that silences all attempts to protest against the war and its regime. Although beyond these protocol ceremonies, until now, conflict does not feature prominently in Putin’s public appearances and, according to analysts in the official Russian press, it is possible that this will remain the case for the remainder of the campaign.
For now, the regime prefers to resort to symbols of the past such as the recently inaugurated “Exhibition of the Achievements of the National Economy”, similar to that carried out in Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union. In the 30s and 40s of the last century, the glories of collectivization and scientific achievements were shown to hide famines and the millions of deaths from wars. Now, 3-D LED screens show the supposed progress in the economy and one of the pavilions is dedicated to the four provinces that the Russian army is trying to take from Ukraine: Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhia. But there are no images of the war itself, there is no search for heroes to help in the recruitment of new soldiers as happened last year.
Apparently, the Russians have become accustomed to war and as long as it does not affect them directly, they seem to continue supporting their leader’s war adventure. According to a company survey Russian Fieldcited by The Economist, Two-thirds of Russians say the country is moving in the right direction and more than half say the war in Ukraine is going well.. They are the type of polls that are read in the Kremlin. It is also true that anti-war protests decreased due to the harsh sentences against activists. A visual artist who placed anti-war posters in a Saint Petersburg supermarket was given seven years in prison. And to a well-known ultranationalist blogger, Igor Girkinwho accompanied the troops and who in his dispatches complained about the ineffectiveness of the officers who send soldiers without the necessary equipment, is in a prison on the outskirts of Moscow.
But the same Russian Field survey shows that the vast majority of Russians do not want to fight this war. More than 60% oppose a new mass recruitment and 74% agree that Putin signs a peace agreement immediately.
The other factor that benefits Putin and his ruling elite is that neither they nor the country’s economy is being affected by Western trade sanctions. Last year, Russia earned 590 billion dollars from exports, mostly oil and gas. This means about 160 billion dollars more than the annual average of the previous decade.
The government budget increased by 26% this year and is projected to increase another 16% in 2024. Defense spending also almost doubled, reaching 6% of GDP, the highest figure since the time of the Soviet Union. War costs about $100 billion a yearwhich were covered until now by additional revenues from oil.
Although most economists agree that this level of spending is not sustainable over time. The Central Bank had to intervene last month and raise the interest rate to 15% after Inflation will reach 12% year-on-year in the third quarter. The obligation was also imposed on exporters to convert their income into rubles to avoid a new devaluation.
Some areas of this huge country are benefiting from the war machine, particularly in the Urals where there are several industries that manufacture weapons and tanks and the areas near the border with Ukraine where mobilized troops rest. Also the towns in remote areas of the East where the majority of the soldiers on the front were recruited. They are paid 195,000 rubles a month, four times the value of an average salary. Soldiers’ families also have credit benefits and Those who suffer the death of one of their children in combat receive about 15 million rublesa fortune that these families could not achieve in 30 years of work.
Anyway, no one wants to get rich at the cost of their child’s life. Evasion of compulsory military service continues to be very high. The forced mobilization announced a year ago – the first since World War II – was widely rejected. There are reports that enlistment offices were set on fire and that hundreds of thousands of young people fled the country or hid in eastern Russia. It is also known that the police constantly raid university hostels in search of escapees. In the independent magazine jellyfish which is published from Estonia, mentions the growing movement of mothers and wives who demand for those mobilized. They joined together in an organization called Voina Zaebala (Fucked by war) and their slogan is “We do not give birth so that our children can be killed.”
Although it is likely that a new general mobilization will be announced after the elections. The Duma, the Russian parliament, has just increase the maximum recruitment age from 27 to 30 years. Several laws that allowed employers to invoke special economic needs to avoid handing over their personnel for military service were also eliminated. Above all, what the Russian army needs are non-commissioned officers, middle and specialized managers. Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov recently said that the army requires 400,000 “pontoneros” and engineers.
For now, Putin continues to rely on an elite of bureaucrats and businessmen who have supported him for years. According to a series of Meduza notes, these are the same state employees who maintain practically the same traditions since the Soviet Union. They are loyal to the State and corporations. Many technocrats who execute specific orders without question. “They consider the task of keeping the ship of state afloat to be a professional challenge, not a moral dilemma,” explains one of the sociologists interviewed. The intelligence services have already taken care of the others, those who could question the regime. The news of top executives and businessmen who “suffered accidents” or fell from windows did the rest..
On the war front, Putin has not fared as badly in recent months as expected. The Ukrainian counteroffensive was not effective enough to break the Russian forces’ supply route coming from the Crimean peninsula. The defenses they put up the previous winter were very effective. And a new winter is approaching that they will also take advantage of to reinforce the defenses along the almost 1,000 kilometers of the front.
However, Russian forces may be suffering a very significant number of casualties. Spokesman of the Ukrainian Land Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Volodymyr Fityoreported this week that The Russians lost almost 11,000 troops in the month of November alone on the Kupyansk, Lyman and Bakhmut fronts.. And he suggested that the number of Russian casualties in the Avdiivka area may be even higher, given the increased pace of operations in that area.
Previously, the Ukrainians had said that Russian forces lost 5,000 dead and wounded near Avdiivka and Marinka (west of the city of Donetsk) between October 10 and 26, when Russian forces launched two waves of assaults to capture those towns. According to him Institute for the Study of War (ISW), “This week, Russian forces are carrying out massive infantry-led assaults to capture Avdiivka, in an apparent effort to preserve armored vehicles despite the risk of even greater personnel losses. Ukrainian forces They would have killed more than 1,200 Russian soldiers and wounded more than 2,200 on the eastern shore of Kherson province between October 17 and November 17.”
The ISW added that Russia could mobilize between 20,000 and 40,000 troops per month to the front, but that “this rate could be lower at this time than the casualty rate they suffer.” The vice president of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedevstated that the Russian army had recruited 42,000 troops between November 9 and December 1.
All this indicates that it is going to be a very hard winter for Putin’s generals. They will have to have a force of at least 200,000 well-trained and experienced men ready by the time spring arrives. if you want to continue holding the defensive line. By then, their counterpart, the senior Ukrainian officers will have already learned their lesson and will have to find a single weak flank on which to advance to the Black Sea. This summer they made a mistake and proposed combat along the entire front. A mistake, they say from Washington, that cost them another year of war. But the Biden Administration also ties their hands. They continue to deny them the air power they need to subdue the Russians and threaten to cut military aid.