MAINTENANCE. War in Ukraine: can Russian society bend Vladimir Putin?

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After declaring partial mobilization, Vladimir Putin had to face the anger of part of the Russian population. These anti-war demonstrations, which are gaining more and more momentum, are worrying the regime. Cyrille Bret, associate researcher at the Jacques Delors Institute answers questions from La Dépêche du Midi.

Following the declarations of Vladimir Poutine which calls for the partial mobilization, discontent wins the Russian population. Are we witnessing a turning point in the war?

This movement had already started at the beginning of the war in Ukraine. But today there is an acceleration of the avoidance strategy of young Russians not to serve in the army. This is a very old trend which dates in particular from the war in Afghanistan and which has been greatly reinforced over the course of the various conflicts (Georgia in 2008, Syria, etc.).

Cyrille Bret

At the same time, we are also witnessing a second movement, this one of protest, more limited but real, with already nearly 2,000 arrests. These are the first public anti-war demonstrations of such magnitude. They demonstrate that part of public opinion is against this war and intends to make it known.

Is Vladimir Putin’s popularity wavering?

The Russian president has had extremely strong popularity for a long time in Russia. On the other hand, this is not the case among young people and urban populations in large cities. Despite everything, his prestige has been tarnished by the impossibility for the moment of winning the victory he had promised. Its image has also taken a hit with the various sanctions which make the daily life of Russians more difficult. Again, this does not mean that it has lost its popularity.

Can Russian society make Putin give up his war?

Even if these demonstrations are very important from the political point of view, they are not so from the quantitative point of view to succeed in making Putin give up his war in Ukraine. This is not a popular uprising. These are protests against the mobilization and the war, but not against the regime in place. Putin’s goal remains and remains. He will not give up his total victory on the pitch. He is playing his personal credibility in this military operation.

Can the regime decree general mobilization?

The partial mobilization will surely fail, but before decreeing the general mobilization other levers will be activated. The general mobilization risks giving rise to new, broader and more massive demonstrations which could lead to a challenge to the regime itself. On the other hand, he no longer has many cards to play.

State propaganda is obviously not working any more, and neither are the rewards for young recruits who go to the front. He must therefore reinvent the narrative of this war, and that is what he is doing. He started this war supposedly to overthrow a neo-Nazi regime in kyiv, today he is changing the narrative: it is about defending Russia against a NATO war.

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