Glenn Reynolds: If Putin Is So Popular with Russians, Why Is He Creating a Personal Army?

 

In a surprise move, Russian Strongman President Vladimir Putin is creating a new paramilitary police force:

In less than a week, he liquidated the federal drug control and immigration agencies, firing more than 50,000 people, including his longtime ally from the KGB, Russian drug tsar Victor Ivanov. Putin then let Russians know that he had created a new force, called the National Guard, a powerful structure that includes more than 180,000 interior ministry troops plus special police units.

Putin’s shakeup creates a military and police force of up to 400,000 well-trained servicemen loyal to him personally. The newly appointed commander is one of Putin’s most trusted men, a former undercover KGB agent named Victor Zolotov, a man with the massive build and intimidating face of a bodyguard who has been responsible for the security of the Russian leadership for almost 20 years.

And as the good Professor Reynolds points out, “That’s usually what leaders do when they’re afraid of a coup.” WSJ coverage here, but more first from The Daily Beast:

When The Daily Beast asked Putin supporters why Putin decided now to form what amounts to a vast Praetorian guard, they said (privately) that the Russian president is terrified a new Russian revolution will be staged by Washington.

“Of course, the president is concerned, he can see that the United States wants to overthrow him, like they did to Gaddafi, or look what they have done in Ukraine—they dream of seeing Russia fall apart, so Putin takes measures to prevent a Ukrainian-style coup,” Sergei Markov, a member of the Duma’s Public Chamber, told The Daily Beast.

By “Putin supporters,” this article refers to Putin’s actual supporters in Russia, people who have some inside knowledge of Kremlin affairs, not Putin’s useful idiots in the West.

Returning, to Reynold’s question, Putin’s actions don’t seem to fit those of somebody confident in the support of his people, which contrasts with his sky-high popularity that Russian public opinion surveys indicate.

This brings me to the thesis that I proposed a couple of years ago that recent events have only confirmed: The root of Putin’s recent bellicosity was the near-disastrous (from his perspective) 2012 Russian Presidential Election when he transitioned back to the President’s office from a stint as Russia’s Prime Minister. The whole election was supposed to be a propaganda love-in for Putin, sort of a big Stalinist Kumbaya moment.

The first sign of trouble was when he was booed at an mixed martial arts tournament, the kind of event that should attract Putin supporters. Then came the demonstrations against corruption and abuse of power. To counter this, Putin pulled out all stops. Every TV channel covered Putin’s re-election campaign non-stop while ignoring the protests, his opponents, or anything else that might indicate that things in Russia were amiss. The existence of his real opponent, Mikhail Prokhonov, was buried. Only eight percent of Russian’s even knew that he was a presidential candidate. There was widespread ballot-box stuffing. Stories circulated that Putin supporters were bussed from work to rallies as well as the polling booth (and sometimes to multiple voting stations). There were reports that “one third of all electoral commissions had substantial irregularities at the stage of vote counting and tabulation.” It was reported that in some polling places in Chechnya — that traditional hotbed of Putin support — Vladimir Putin received greater than 100 percent of the vote. The results were so suspect that even the Communist Party didn’t acknowledge the results.

And still — after all that — Putin only received 64% of the vote!

My thesis is that, after this near-death experience, Putin quietly promised himself that it’d never happen again. I think all of his aggressive geopolitical moves — in Ukraine, in the Baltics, in Syria, against Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Great Britain, and the United States — are designed to foster an Us vs. Them mentality among the Russian people. This is a standard go-to gimmick that demagogues use to drum up popularity. So far, it has worked, mostly because Putin has been allowed to win (except in the Ukraine where he increasingly appears to be mired in a Vietnam-style conflict). Nobody has given him a bloody nose, yet.

Of course, as George H. W. Bush can attest, popularity after a military victory can be fleeting. In spite of his approval rating was 89 percent after the Gulf War, he went on to lose the presidential election of 1992 to Bill Clinton. If Putin suffers a defeat somewhere, I think his power plays will boomerang against him hard. Especially as there is nothing else positive going on in Russia these days.

Of course, how much damage this thug creates on his way to the ash-heap of history remains to be seen.

Published in Foreign Policy
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  1. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    It seems the thug leaders across the world are all nervous and ramping up the saber rattling – but this story is big – it can’t end well –

    • #1
  2. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    A couple of things here come to mind, the czar needs a force loyal to him, and consolidating forces from within the intelligence services reduces the chances of being served a polonium sandwich.

    • #2
  3. Lazy_Millennial Inactive
    Lazy_Millennial
    @LazyMillennial

    Saudis keeping oil prices low hurts the Russian economy bad. So do the sanctions imposed over Russia’s response to Ukraine. In addition to these short-term issues, in the long term Russia (like Europe) is facing a demographic implosion. Russia doesn’t have the high GDP like western Europe to support an aging population.

    All of Putin’s foreign policy has been based around keeping his citizens loyalty at home and focus abroad. He’s not playing a strong hand, he’s playing a weak hand aggressively. Luckily for him, he’s facing a Europe in crisis and US feeling isolationist. The next President will have the painful task of containing the starving bear.

    • #3
  4. Herod Otis Inactive
    Herod Otis
    @HerodOtis

    “When The Daily Beast asked Putin supporters why Putin decided now to form what amounts to a vast Praetorian guard, they said (privately) that the Russian president is terrified a new Russian revolution will be staged by Washington.

    ‘Of course, the president is concerned, he can see that the United States wants to overthrow him, like they did to Gaddafi, or look what they have done in Ukraine—they dream of seeing Russia fall apart, so Putin takes measures to prevent a Ukrainian-style coup,’ Sergei Markov, a member of the Duma`s Public Chamber, told The Daily Beast.”

    Seems that Russia really lacks any ability to read US politics.  Obama and Hillary have fallen all over themselves to send the opposite message from what this guy is saying.  Reset, anyone?  This paranoid, conspiratorial mindset could pose a great danger to global security.

    • #4
  5. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    It does look like a move to coup-proof Russia.

    But at what cost?

    Ayatollah Khomeini, it’s said, followed the same game plan after 1979 by creating the Pasdaran as a meaningful alternative pole of military power to the Army.  It was successful, in that Iran hasn’t had another 1953 type coup, but by fracturing the polity permanently it’s left the country in an almost permanent state of internal conflict between opposing power centres.

    • #5
  6. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Zafar:It does look like a move to coup-proof Russia.

    But at what cost?

    Ayatollah Khomeini, it’s said, followed the same game plan after 1979 by creating the Pasdaran as a meaningful alternative pole of military power to the Army. It was successful, in that Iran hasn’t had another 1953 type coup, but by fracturing the polity permanently it’s left the country in an almost permanent state of internal conflict between opposing power centres.

    Ya, I’m sure Kohmeini cared about that? Putin and Khomeini never had any interest in making their countries work for their people. Simply arranging things to work best for them during their lives. So Putin will rework Russia into what he needs it to be to maintain his power. The Russian people as always will suffer for this. So will Russia’s neighbors who bare the brunt of Putin’s aggression.

    • #6
  7. Marion Evans Inactive
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    I am sorry if this causes hardship to the Russian people but it isn’t our business as long as he doesn’t mess with us. We learned our lesson with Saddam: there is a reason why these types of leaders rise to the top. These societies have deeper problems than just a bad leader. The leader is a symptom of an underlying condition.

    • #7
  8. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Valiuth:

    Ya, I’m sure Kohmeini cared about that? Putin and Khomeini never had any interest in making their countries work for their people.

    Coups don’t tend to work well for the people either.

    But yes – I think they are/were driven by the urge to preserve their (organisations) own political power.

    • #8
  9. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Interesting. But Bush’s opponent had popular media support, while Putin has apparently locked down information distributors. So real problems and opposition narratives have less impact on Russian public opinion.

    How well does truth trickle in by internet and international trade?

    The starving bear is nuclear. If Putin controlled only one district of Moscow and had pitchforks pounding on his door, he would still be powerful enough to worry about.

    • #9
  10. livingthehighlife Inactive
    livingthehighlife
    @livingthehighlife

    Marion Evans: These societies have deeper problems than just a bad leader. The leader is a symptom of an underlying condition.

    The same could be said for these United States.

    • #10
  11. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    A commie thug is getting the old gang back together so as to stay in power without challenge.  Golly, I am so surprised you could knock me over with a plastic reset button or is it an ‘overload’ button.. who is the genius who picked перегрузка, it barely fits on the damn button. Hillary always surrounds herself with such high qualities flunkies…

    I’ll bet Putin has a countdown on his desk calendar. Today marks only 269 days left to rub POTUS’ nose in it before the idiot megawimp Barry OBlameus leaves office.

    • #11
  12. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    Lazy_Millennial:Saudis keeping oil prices low hurts the Russian economy bad. So do the sanctions imposed over Russia’s response to Ukraine. In addition to these short-term issues, in the long term Russia (like Europe) is facing a demographic implosion. Russia doesn’t have the high GDP like western Europe to support an aging population.

    All of Putin’s foreign policy has been based around keeping his citizens loyalty at home and focus abroad. He’s not playing a strong hand, he’s playing a weak hand aggressively. Luckily for him, he’s facing a Europe in crisis and US feeling isolationist. The next President will have the painful task of containing the starving bear.

    This is my diagnosis also. The demographic implosion of Russia is real.

    • #12
  13. Richard Fulmer Inactive
    Richard Fulmer
    @RichardFulmer

    Putin is trying to make up for the loss of oil revenues by selling Russian arms into the void that Obama created.

    • #13
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