Putin is not dependent on the Russian elite, political parties, oligarchic cartels, social movements, institutions, and all administrative instances of Russia. They are all dependent on him. However, he is certainly dependent on geopolitics, the people, and civilisation.
Political Trends in the First Year of the Special Military Operation (SMO)
The analysis of political transformations within Russia during the SMO period is quite clear. After initial fluctuations – advance/retreat – a steady and easily verifiable trend has emerged both in the fighting itself and in domestic politics. The connection between the military campaign in Ukraine and the new Russian territories and the domestic political processes in Russia itself is evident. Although this hardly fits into the overly sharp contrast of ‘loyalty/betrayal’ reflected in the image of ‘advance/retreat’, there is certainly a direct link between the events at the fronts and the degree and intensity of patriotism in the state and society. Indeed, we should speak of traitors in the full sense in the leadership of the Russian Federation with great caution, and only when we know something for certain, not when we merely have certain suspicions about it. Under wartime conditions, one does not throw around such labels. Judging by the leaks in the Pentagon, the enemy is too well informed about the state of affairs in the Russian army leadership itself to clear things up here. Other structures responsible for counterintelligence should be in charge of that. It would be more appropriate if we remove the direct traitors from the equation, at least in this analysis of the situation. Of course, there are those in power, especially the direct followers of the Gorbachev-Yeltsin course of unconditional rapprochement with the West, who want to end the war at all costs. But they cannot speak directly about it, and if they openly undertake something in this direction, the consequences will be quite harsh. All responsible authorities are well aware that it is simply impossible to stop the SMO in the state it is in. There are several reasons for this. The West is vehemently against stopping it, and the Nazi regime in Kiev will perceive it as our capitulation. Moreover, it will be perceived by society as a complete discrediting of the authorities, and the political system will simply collapse. Therefore, only a traitor, an enemy of Russia – of the people and the state – would want peace under these circumstances.
However, the process of patriotisation in society is progressing extremely slowly; just as slowly as our advance towards the West is proceeding. There is an amazing connection: the beginning of the SMO – a surge of patriotism, then attempts at retreat – delayed mobilisation, then a general retreat – then a PR shift, then a breakthrough (the inclusion of four new territories into Russia, mobilisation, the appointment of Surovikin) and finally the stabilisation of the situation. So after a period of hesitation, delays, and even retreat, we have reached a steady vector of consistent, albeit still extremely slow, restrained patriotism after more than a year of the SMO.
In the near future, Russia will apparently face a serious test – a counteroffensive of the Kiev regime in one or several directions simultaneously. And of course, within the patriotic current, there will likely be a symmetrical strike against Russia itself. As soon as we have withstood the attack and repelled it, the process of patriotisation of society and comprehensive ideological and political reforms will gain momentum at a different pace. It is likely that our own offensive against the enemy will accelerate in a similar manner. Consequently, in the decisive year 2023, the image of our future will be determined: what Russia should be at the next turn of its historical existence.
Stages of Modern Russian History: From Colony to Great Power
The Russian Federation emerged in 1991 from the ruins of a great power. In the first decade, the country was placed under foreign control and a complete collapse began. The worst elements – plunderers, traitors, agents of Western influence, commonly referred to as ‘liberals’ – came to power. This is the first phase of Russia’s recent history.
Putin, who came to power in 2000, slowed down the disintegration process and increasingly insisted on sovereignty. He left the main core of the elite of the 1990s in place for some reason, only removing the utterly disgusting and boorish individuals. The 23 years of Putin’s rule before the SMO were the second phase.
After the beginning of the SMO, the third phase began: a real patriotic turn – from the sovereignty of the state to the sovereignty of civilisation. Putin has outlined this course, but it has yet to fully unfold. It will mature and finally prevail after a probable counterattack by the Kiev Nazis has been repelled. At this point, the elites will inevitably be purged and replaced – real heroes will come from the front and naturally replace the liberal, corrupt core.
Putin’s Course and Objective Factors: Geopolitics, Society, Civilisation
Many observers have the impression that both the orientation towards state sovereignty from the beginning of Putin’s rule and the orientation towards asserting the identity of the Russian Eurasian civilisation outlined by him after the start of the SMO were exclusively decisions by Putin himself, Putin as an individual. His decision was supported by society, by the majority, and the elite had no choice but to follow the president. Some fled, others lurked, hoping to survive the catastrophe and return to the familiar algorithm, but the majority accepted the terms and expressed – some louder and clearer, others more muted and confused – their loyalty to the new course.
This personification of the SMO decision has led to a series of political stances – both within and outside Russia itself. If SMO=Putin, then everything can be remade after Putin. And the absoluteness of Putin’s power is such that only he decides when the time ‘after Putin’ comes – he can stay in power ‘indefinitely’; the people and society will support him. However, he can also relinquish power – and to whomever he wants. He is entirely free to do what he thinks is right. Such absolute sovereignty of the supreme ruler generates a circle of hope for the enemy associated with the ‘post-Putin’ era, and internally – among the Russian elites themselves – it also fuels expectations, into which everyone inserts their own interests.
At this point, some adjustments should be made. Yes, Putin is absolutely and infinitely free concerning the political system of Russia. He is dependent on no one and has concentrated all power in his hands. But he is not free from the laws of geopolitics and in particular from the strategy of the West, which is desperately trying to maintain unipolarity and deprive Russia of its status as a pole of the multipolar world; as well as from the structure of expectations and values of the broad mass of the people, and from the civilisational logic of Russian history itself.
Precisely for this reason, Putin pursues the kind of foreign policy he pursues, symmetrically responding to the pressure of geopolitical Atlanticism (NATO, the collective West) with Eurasian geopolitics. This is the first. Here he does not have full power; he is desperately fighting for Russia to be just one of the poles of the multipolar world and not a new hegemon. But even this is denied by the West, which explains the consolidation of NATO countries (except Hungary and Turkey) against Russia in the Ukraine war. And here it is nothing personal: geopolitics was not invented by Putin; he stands at the head of Heartland, the germ cell of the land civilisation, Eurasia, and is obliged to follow this logic. Attempts to bend to Atlanticism, as we saw in the 1990s during the Yeltsin era, would only lead to further disintegration of Russia. Therefore, the Russian state, which wants to be a subject of geopolitics and not its object, simply has no choice but to confront the West. Putin has already procrastinated as long as he could, and only at the very last moment openly entered into it. He did not make the decision to start an SMO; Russia was forced into it by the West’s behaviour.
Secondly: Putin is not free from the support of the people. He has held onto power so well precisely because his line of government – at least in matters of sovereignty and patriotism – completely coincides with the main priorities and desires of the broad mass of the people. Yes, the people also wanted social justice, but compared to Yeltsin, where there was neither justice nor patriotism, there was generally enough patriotism. Putin rightly and quite rationally calculated that trust in the broad masses would give him unconditional support and tie his hands in domestic politics. Trust in the liberals, i.e., in the urban (especially metropolitan) Western-oriented population and the oligarchy, would, on the other hand, make him completely dependent on rival groups, lobbies, political segments, and ultimately the West. The people, on the other hand, do not demand anyone in particular. But they rightly demand from Putin that he restores Russia’s independence and greatness. And that is what Putin is doing.
So, while Putin possesses significant power, he is still constrained by geopolitical forces, the expectations of the people, and the historical and civilizational trajectory of Russia. His decisions are not made in a vacuum, and as such, any analysis of Russia’s current situation and future trajectory must take into account these objective factors that shape and limit Putin’s actions. The notion that Putin is solely responsible for Russia’s current course overlooks the complex interplay of factors that influence the nation’s politics and foreign policy.
Thirdly, Putin does not govern in a vacuum, but within the context of the logic of Russian history. This suggests that Russia is an independent civilisation, not part of the Western world, something Putin partially agreed with at the beginning of his rule. The conservative thinkers of Tsarist Russia, from the Slavophiles and Tyutchev to the ideologues of the Silver Age and the Bolsheviks themselves, have always – both on the Right and the Left, for different reasons, but without exception – opposed Russia to the West. The conservatives insisted on the distinctiveness of Russian identity, while the Bolsheviks insisted on the contradictions of the two incompatible socio-economic systems. As soon as Putin quotes Dostoevsky or Ilyin or says something neutral and positive about Stalin while sharply criticising the West – even going so far as to claim it is a ‘Satanic civilisation’ – he appears as a legitimate link in the chain of great rulers of the Russian world. Attempts to build an alternative – pro-Western, liberal – policy lead to deep hatred in the population, which we see in the public attitude towards Gorbachev and Yeltsin.
Putin is not dependent on the Russian elite, the political parties, the oligarchic cartels, the social movements, the institutions, and all administrative instances in Russia. They all depend on him. However, he is definitely dependent on geopolitics, the people, and civilisation. And he is fully in line with their expectations, their logic, and the structures underlying them.
Against this backdrop, the future horizon conventionally referred to as ‘post-Putin’ takes on very different features. Putin’s status is – precisely because of the alignment with the three critical factors and based on the real steps he has taken and the real results he has achieved – practically unshakeable. He is so much in line with these objective parameters that he himself is partially free from them. The case of ‘justice’, which is clearly lacking even under Putin, speaks volumes – people are willing to turn a blind eye to it (even if it hurts them) in view of other principal aspects of Putin’s rule. Even with the West, Putin can calibrate the heat of hostility because the public trusts him and he does not have to prove his patriotism every time – no one doubts it anymore.
However, with ‘post-Putin’ – and with any successor – this will not be the case. Putin’s power is sufficient to keep everyone in check. This is accepted by all. But beyond that, the figure of this ‘post-Putin’ will have much less freedom of action than Putin himself.
At the same time, it is absolutely impossible to imagine that the hypothetical successor – whoever it may be – will try to deviate from the geopolitical course, patriotism, and civilisational identity of Russia. It is Putin who is still somewhat free in this respect. However, his successor will not be free at all. As soon as he shows even a slight relaxation in this direction, his positions will be immediately weakened, his legitimacy will be shaken, and of course, those figures and forces that correspond more to historical challenges than a hesitant successor will emerge alongside him. ‘Post-Putin’ will have to prove himself as a worthy successor to Putin and gain legitimacy in geopolitics, patriotism (this time including social justice), and the revival of the Russian world. Putin has won his wars or decisively started them. ‘Post-Putin’, on the other hand, has not yet done so. The successor will therefore not only have to become a fully fledged Eurasian geopolitician, but also decisively and at any cost win the war with the collective West in Ukraine in such a way that no one can doubt the victory. Putin can theoretically stop somewhere (although it is unlikely that the West will let him), but his successor will not be able to stop before the border with Poland.
The same applies to the people. They accept Putin. ‘Post-Putin’ will have to earn this acceptance. And here, he cannot avoid taking some consistent steps towards social justice. The influence of big capital, the oligarchs, and capitalism in general is deeply repulsive to Russians. Putin can forgive that, but why should his successor? Not only patriotism, but socially oriented patriotism is what ‘post-Putin’ will need. And here he will have to maintain not only the standard but raise it even higher. And that means he will have to reform the party system and the structures of government. Everywhere, patriots, and especially those who have gone through the crucible of a just liberation war – truly a Patriotic War – will take over the top positions. A complete rotation of the ‘post-Putin’ elite will not happen under any circumstances.
Finally, Russian civilisation. The 23 years of Putin’s rule have been aimed at strengthening Russia as a sovereign state. At the same time, Putin – especially at the beginning – conceded that this Russian sovereignty can be defended and strengthened within the framework of a common Western European civilisation – ‘from Lisbon to Vladivostok’ – with the concepts of Western civilisation – capitalism, liberal democracy, the human rights ideology, technological progress, international division of labour, digitalisation, adherence to international law, etc. It gradually became clear that this was not the case, and only after the beginning of the SMO did his speeches start to contain words about Russian civilisation and its fundamental value differences from the modern West. Decree 809 on state policy to protect traditional values was signed, and the new version of the foreign policy concept presented Russia not only as a pole of a multipolar world but also as a completely distinct civilisation, different from both the West and the East. This is the Russian world, and it is explicitly mentioned in this concept.
‘Post-Putin’ cannot even return to the formula of a sovereign state, so great is the extent of the conflict with the collective West today and the wave of Russophobia there. The path to a united Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok is – at least until a revolutionary change in Europe itself – cut off. Putin’s successor will simply have to move even further in this direction. This will require a cultural reset under the banner of the Russian Logos. From here on, it will become even more difficult.
From this, we can draw a paradoxical conclusion. As long as Putin is in power in Russia, some kind of agreement with the West that slows down the patriotic processes in politics and ideology remains possible. The West is not at all aware that the only person with whom it is still possible to build relations is Putin himself. The delusional idea of eliminating him, destroying him, bears witness to the loss of the collective sense of reality in the West. With ‘post-Putin’ – that is the one with whom it will be impossible to negotiate. He – whoever he may be – will have no mandate and no power to do so. The only thing he can do is go to war with the West until victory and not slow down the patriotic reforms but accelerate them – perhaps not in the soft Putin-like way but in the hard Prigozhin-like way.
Whoever Putin appoints as his successor – and he can appoint absolutely anyone – this ‘anyone’ will immediately have to adopt not only the language of patriotism but the language of ultra-patriotism. And there will not be much time left to learn such a language, most likely there will be no time for it at all. From this arises a certain pattern. Most likely, ‘post-Putin’ will be the one who already masters this new operating system – Eurasian geopolitics, consistent power patriotism (with a leftward orientation in the economy), and the original Russian civilisation, the Russian Logos.