Putin suffers damage to his image, but his grip remains strong in his country

internationalNovember 14 22:26author: Bram van Eigendhoven

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s image has been badly damaged in recent weeks: Ukraine’s Kherson region has virtually been liberated, relations with China are under pressure and he has been reluctant to resume the grain deal with Ukraine. But in his country his fist is still very strong. “We should not underestimate the pressure that an authoritarian regime puts on the population,” says Hans van Koningsbrough, a Russian expert at the University of Groningen.

It seems that more and more former Soviet republics surrounding Russia are becoming increasingly critical of the war in Ukraine and Russia’s role in it. According to Van Koningsbrugge, this is a clear indication that Russian influence is waning there, too. Even the President of Kazakhstan publicly expressed his disapproval at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum. It also shows that Armenia and Azerbaijan talk to each other in America, not in Moscow.


Relations with China, an important ally of Russia, also appear to be under increasing pressure. “China wasn’t eager to invade Ukraine from the start,” says Van Koningsberg. Beijing may have said the raid should end quickly. It did not, so China began to distance itself more and more.

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Another important factor in growing Chinese secession, according to Van Koningsberg, is Western sanctions against Russia. China is well aware that some things cannot be handed over to Russia, and Chinese companies could become victims of a Western boycott if they did. They don’t want that, because the Chinese economy isn’t the best in terms of growth right now either.


Tomorrow, the G20 summit in Bali will be attended by, among others, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden. Putin shines through the absence. Van Koningsbrugge: I think he realizes he can count on a little friendship there, so there’s not much to gain. The basis of trust is completely missing from the western side at the moment, and China is not enthusiastic. So what are you supposed to do there next?

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Van Koningsberg also doesn’t think Putin was too eager to see Xi Jinping again. Xi is quite filled with the issue of Taiwan and its economy. I think he’s very disappointed in his “Chinese best friend,” he once said.

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Putin is not under pressure in Russia yet. “The Russian elite is made up of several factions, and Putin has always been a kind of mediator between some groups,” explains Van Koningsberg. “The elites do not draw a single line, but they are still dependent on Putin. They can lose everything, even their lives. So the elite will do nothing against Putin unless they think they have nothing to gain from this strategy.

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According to journalist Dirk Sauer, Putin is beginning to control the narrative of war after months of chaos. According to him, the emphasis is on the story that Russia saves the lives of soldiers and that they are deliberately engaged in a protracted battle. Van Koningsbrugge only partially agrees. “They assert that it will be a long battle, but you also find many reports of soldiers so ill-equipped that they had to buy their own equipment and be abandoned by the officers. If the army is not doing better, I don’t think the new narrative will come into play with the people.


So the image of Russia and Putin appears to have been somewhat damaged on the outside, but on the inside he appears to have a firm grip on power. “It’s because of the media telling the story that Ukrainians are Nazis and cultists. If you’ve only been immersed in propaganda for decades, something is still there.

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The defeats of the Russian army and the many casualties already claimed by the war in Ukraine may detract from that picture. “But until very recently you saw nothing of the war in Moscow,” says Van Koningsberg. “In order to stand out, there has to be some kind of organization or leader who stands up and demands clarity. But Putin has personal control of a 400,000-man National Guard. This is not a military unit, he can use it if you allow. We must not underestimate the pressure of the authoritarian regime. on the population.

Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin. (ANP / Associated Press)

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