With the military operation floundering, international diplomatic and economic backlash, and Sweden and Finland decided to join NATO, Putin should be ready to search for the elusive off-ramp. With the recent change in the car radio of his disinformation network, I think the following is a likely scenario.
Unlike democracies, autocratic governments survive not by building consensus and negotiating accommodations between and among the various interest groups, but do so by providing enough sustenance while making everyone afraid of speaking out, and suppressing dissent, sometimes trivially, sometimes brutally.
Currently, the Russian people are firmly behind Putin’s message of the DeNazification even as the full price of Russian loss is kept from its people. The delay in the mass arrival of corpses and the lack of large-scale or frequent funeral services are not triggered by public demonstrations. Russia has learned the dangers of ritualizing loss and hero-worship in the time of defeat in Afghanistan. That lesson was the only consolation from the previous Russia breakup.
If the Russian people support Putin is to keep their myth of a powerful military, then the failure to capture Ukraine has to be laid at someone’s feet. This is the basis of the offramp; the true enemy is the cause of the defeat and the roadblock to restoring Russian dominance.
And the campaign will be rooting out the true enemy, of foreign influence and infiltration, and with a parallel mirage of fighting corruption, the favorite tool of decadent western capitalism. Xi of China used this propaganda to remove rival factions and controlled the CCP with great effect during peace. It will be interesting to see if Putin can stuff the dead bear with it.
My best guess is that Putin will agree to a ceasefire and then a long negotiation to prevent a complete withdrawal from Ukraine, close whatever is left of the internet and border-crossing, and a national effort to root out corruption and infiltration of the KGB and the military, possibly with a super KGB organization. The Russian version of the Nazi.
Within a new atmosphere of fear, Putin can continue to rule Russia from behind the walls of the Kremlin, while Russians mourning their children join Alexei Navalny in jail. Surprisingly, the military will not face much turmoil at the top, as Putin can’t afford to upset the army, and many of the generals in the Red Army have already been killed in the conflict. Putin must walk a fine line between blaming the foreign influence and honoring the memories of the generals.
Russia’s on-ramp into aggression was paved with bodies of Ukrainian, and when they are forced to offramp their aggression, it will be paved with the bodies of Russian people. Only the dead have known the end of the war, and the post-Ukrainian Russia will the find offramp lead to a steep ditch.
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