Putin realizes that escalation on foreign soil boosts his popular support – expert

21:15, 04 September 2019
World
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Russia has been aggressive in the international arena over recent years to maintain internal political stability. For the Russian leader to achieve such stability, the easiest way is to remain popular, according to Russian expert Andrei Soldatov who has long been investigating Russian special services.

"Unfortunately, what Putin has discovered is that if you can produce an escalation with the West, that makes you popular. The Second Chechen War was portrayed as a conflict where the other side was supported by the West. The war with Georgia in 2008 was an even clearer example of this. The same thing happened with Ukraine and with Syria. Every time Putin sees his popularity in decline, he knows that he needs some kind of escalation that can produce popularity for him," Soldatov told Foreign Policy.

He adds that, although this boost doesn't last forever, it has "certainly served him well over the last 20 years."

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It's not only about the GRU [Russian military intelligence] either. The army is getting more and more active politically, both domestically and internationally. For instance, they are playing a bigger role in Russian ideology, history, the economy, and even increasingly so in the affairs of the Orthodox Church. "Russia has never had the army play a role like this—they’ve always been kept in check by the security services. Trust in the armed forces last year surpassed even confidence in Putin, which is crazy given how low it was after the Chechen wars," the expert says.

It's not only about the GRU [Russian military intelligence] either. The army is getting more and more active politically, both domestically and internationally. For instance, they are playing a bigger role in Russian ideology, history, the economy, and even increasingly so in the affairs of the Orthodox Church. This is something we need to look into more deeply, and it concerns me. Russia has never had the army play a role like this—they’ve always been kept in check by the security services. Trust in the armed forces last year surpassed even confidence in Putin, which is crazy given how low it was after the Chechen wars.

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The army has become Putin’s most effective foreign-policy instrument and central to the Kremlin’s geopolitical ambitions, according to Soldatov. "Right now, they are more active and more independent, which is a new phenomenon. Many of these adventures abroad, from Syria to Skripal, they have a military element to them, and they're all becoming more adventurous and less restrained."

"They’re allowed to run their own independent international policy at the moment, [and] that’s why anything is possible," concludes the expert.

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