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Why Putin believes Russia has no other way to survive without winning Ukrainian war

By Fumiko Yamada 

The Ukraine war has entered such a critical phase that Putin cannot think of ending the war without achieving victory. But the question is, why can't he think about it when the loss is apparently much greater than what Russia has gained from this war? In February 2023, Vladimir Putin said that if Russia concedes defeat in this war, not only the Russian Federation but the Russian nation may collapse. At the time, commentators in both Moscow and the West also believed that Putin was actually practicing a campaign rather than speaking his own words. They do not think that losing Ukraine will collapse Russia, and neither does Putin (, November 25, 2022).
But now it doesn't seem that way. Putin actually believes that Russia has no other way to survive without winning this war. And the larger population of Russia does not disagree with that idea. Recent opinion polls indicate that the Russian president has wide public support, despite the various ills. Levanda, an opinion poll published by Russian Field, found that 80 percent of Russians responded yes to the question of whether they supported Russia's "special operations" in Ukraine. More than 55 percent of them strongly supported this. On the other hand, only 15 percent of Russians opposed the war.
Surprisingly, 59 percent said yes when asked whether they supported a new Russian military campaign in Kiev. 26 percent of Russians oppose renewed attacks. Sixty-six percent said they supported a peace deal on Putin's terms, while 24 percent opposed it. (, 3 March 2023) This trend in opinion polls shows no major differences in attitudes among Russians regardless of age or income.
In general, regardless of the type of ruler, internal public opinion plays an important role in whether or not to engage in something like war. Despite the sanctions imposed by the Western world on Russia, this widespread support for Putin does not seem likely to force Russia to accept any negative terms to end the war in the near future.
There were reasons to believe that Putin was once talking about the breakup of Russia for propaganda purposes. One of the reasons for such a view is that Russia is now much more ethnically homogenous than the Soviet Union was in 1991, and any secession would now have to set Russians rather than non-Russians against ethnic Russians (, July 13, 2022). When Mikhail Gorbachev last threatened the country's future, the Kremlin took extremely harsh measures against non-Russians within the borders of the Russian Federation (, February 14, 2023). Furthermore, even most Russian opposition parties are against any secession within the country and warn that declaring such a goal would be in conflict with their interests (, March 1, 2023). Moreover, among Russians who oppose Putin and his war in Ukraine, there are also fears of a possible breakup of the country (, January 3, 2023). Indeed, many of them and others have long supported Putin because they believe he has blocked the country's potential disintegration with his brutal war in Chechnya (, April 15, 2022).
Thus, Putin has every reason to use it as a propaganda tool in raising the specter of isolation of Russia and the Russian nation in order to gain popular support for himself and his policies. He is thought to take this tactic, especially when such ideas are presented as a goal of Western policy. And indeed, it is certain that the Russian leader took these into account when he made his comments.
But at the same time, according to Russian commentator Alexander Skobov, the reality is that Putin, more than any previous Russian ruler, fears that a loss or retreat from Ukraine would create an 'abyss' that would engulf his rule and that the imperial structure would collapse suddenly and unexpectedly. Can it?
Skobov's analysis states that, like other empires, the Russian Empire has always been a composite of different regions and peoples. It is held together by force. In order to subjugate a 'vertical' administration, its ruling class directly interfered with the natural emergence of horizontal relations between the various parts of the empire (, March 6). But at the same time the Russian nation is encouraged to feel superior to everyone else. The organic connection of this imperialist character of the Russian state with the authoritarian tradition extending to the whole system of social relations is obvious and helps to make the Russian system as 'anti-Western'. Alexander Dugin, known as Putin's mastermind, gave it a theoretical basis in his conception of the Eurasia doctrine. Now both Russian theorists and leadership consider the West a threat to both the Russian state and nation.
As a result, Russia effortlessly transitioned from being a 'besieged fortress' to 'a crusade' seen as a nest aimed at destroying the 'sinful and evil West' (, March 6, 2023). And thus, Russian elites naturally seek to counter that danger by creating a vicious circle, in which fear of isolation reinforces both authoritarianism and anti-Westernism. And that means: 'A Russian empire cannot be liberal and cannot be part of Western civilization or community.' Putin's fear of the disintegration of Russia and the Russian nation thus becomes an integral part of his hatred of the West.
As a result, Putin also fears that without the support of an authoritarian power, his state's imperial identity will easily split into regional identities. And then the 'accursed West' will absorb Russia piece by piece' (, March 6, 2023). Putin's fear of Russia's disintegration is not meant to scare people. In fact, this is a real and deep concern of Putin himself. And here lies his hatred of the West as a civilization that the West rejects rights outside of Russian state power.
Skobov is not alone in seeing Putin's hostility to the West and fear of deep-rooted isolation. Vladimir Marchenko, a political observer at Tatarstan's Business Online portal, said that Putin's understanding of how the issue is connected comes from the influence of Ivan Ilyin, who is known as the Kremlin chief's favorite philosopher. According to the Kazan analyst, the real reason Putin admires Ilyin, not Ilyin's commitment to fascism. Rather, it is their shared obsession with the risk of Russia's isolation and their common commitment to do whatever it takes to prevent it (, October 2, 2022). For Marchenko, like Skobov, Putin's authoritarianism is therefore not primary but a reflection of this fear, which distinguishes both from other Russian thinkers who have flirted with fascism. In addition, it explains why Putin is committed to overcoming divisions in Russia, even if he does not hesitate to use force to prevent disintegration.
Another Russian analyst, Vladimir Pastukhov, observed that this had never happened before in history. All over the world, as well as in Russia, so many people are focused on the possibility that Russia may break up. This is in sharp contrast to previous years. Few expected radical changes when the Russian Empire collapsed in 1917 and the Soviet Union in 1991 (, 3 Ryb, June 3, 2022). Now Russia's existential fears drive Putin's policies. For this reason, Putin's words about isolation seem to be taken much more seriously.
Some Western experts once predicted that Russia would collapse within a year or two as a result of the war. Timothy Ash, Associate Fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program, says that while there is little chance of positive change with the emergence of reformist forces, the Russian Federation is more likely to split into many new states. Others are less confident about any imminent regime collapse in Russia. Associate Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program. Joanna Sjostek says Russian authorities are adept at cracking down on protests and have stepped up repression. Experience shows that mass protests generally pose a real threat to an entrenched authoritarian regime only when there are divisions within the elite as well.
From the opening reference to Russian public opinion, it is clear that there is a strong fear of the country collapsing ethnically, both at the leadership and public levels. The Chatham House report shows that such a desire in the West has been revealed at various times. As a result, Putin cannot be expected to end the war easily. The question is, what direction is the outcome of the war in Ukraine? Beijing's success in ending a diplomatic rift between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two of the Middle East's warring powers, could encourage the country's leader Xi Jinping to mediate an end to the war in Ukraine. He gave such a hint.
It is true that China is the country that will benefit the most in the short term from Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But these gains may also come with risks in the medium or long term. The Kremlin increasingly feels the need for Chinese military assistance for Moscow to avert a Russian catastrophe in Ukraine. And this military aid would mean China falling under the economic sanctions of the West. Such a ban, like the Russian ban, would hurt the economy of the West as well as China. But there will be no other way for America and its allies. The big danger for Beijing would be a major disruption to its rise plans, something China would not want ahead of time. For this reason, it seems that Beijing is going to take an initiative to stop the Russia-Ukraine war.
The question is, under what conditions this war can be an agreement? It goes without saying that the conditions of war have not yet developed for either side to meet the conditions unilaterally. If there is to be an agreement to stop the war at this time, it will be through taking a position between the two sides. It is difficult to say for sure what will happen. However, the United States, Europe, China and Russia-Ukraine must agree on this, which may include giving up the land of Ukraine, the country not being part of NATO, as well as lifting the sanctions imposed on Russia. However, no simple equation is visible to either side in this case.



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