Staunton, Mar. 22 – Many believe that if Putin manages to “snatch a victory” in Ukraine, Russia will enter a new period of stability, Abbas Gallyamov says. There would be a brief outpouring of euphoria, but it wouldn’t last as long as the public reaction to the Anschluss of Crimea did.
The reason for that is simple, the former Putin speechwriter says. The Russian people wants to return to “the prewar state when everything was relatively peaceful,” but that would require a fundamental change in Putin’s direction. There is no evidence he’s prepared to do so even if he wins (rferl.org/a/putin-speechwriter-galyamov-interview-tavberidze/32331261.html).
Russians don’t believe that things will get better for them after a victory or even return to what they were before Putin launched his war in Ukraine, Gallyamov says. They are going to demand changes, and Putin isn’t prepared to give any. His recent speeches show that he has no intention of doing anything different than he is now.
But if Putin doesn’t win the war – and there are compelling reasons to think that he isn’t and won’t, Gallyamov continues – then “it will be really hard for him. His entire legitimacy is based only on the premise that he’s strong and always winning. And his failure to win the war he started would show that he’s no longer as strong as we thought he was.”
“The magic would disappear … people would no longer be enchanted with him. The erosion of his legitimacy would speed up quickly. Indeed, it is already under way. And then within a year or two, he would turn into someone hated – an old dictator and an old tyrant.” Then, without that base of support, “he might face an elite coup or a military coup.”
Speaking about the future, Gallyamov makes two proposals. On the one hand, he argues that Putin is likely to install Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister and try to make him responsible for what happens in a way that allows Putin to avoid responsibility for a disaster in Ukraine but get credit if miracle of miracles things turn out right.
And on the other, the Russian commentator says that in the event of a collapse, currently imprisoned opposition leader Aleksey Navalny has “a big chance.” He’s getting “charged” and being in prison, “he’s not responsible for the current collapse.” Moreover, “people still remember him as Putin’s chief enemy.”
“So,” Gallyamov continues, “when the regime collapses, it would be natural for people to turn to Navalny and look at him and ask him what he thinks.” That could be a launch pad for a rapid rise to the top.
Were that to happen, Navalny’s Russia “would be a normal, peaceful country just like it was in the 1990s,” because “all this Russian imperialism, all this strategy based on conflicts with the Western world has exhausted itself … Everyone feels that this has led us into serious trouble” and they want to try something else.
In many ways, Gallyamov argues, the situation is becoming like that in postwar Germany. This feeling to change course is growing and when it becomes overwhelming, the regime will collapse. What that means is that no one in Russia will want a repetition of what they have just gone through.
“And again,” he says, “the strongest idea in Russia will be ‘never again’ like in post-Franco Spain where everyone already understood that [his] course had exhausted itself” and that the country must move in a radically different direction.
Window on Eurasia — New Series