Russia Can Finally See that Putin’s ‘Days Are Numbered’

More than two decades after he came to power, President Putin’s grip on the Russian people is finally beginning to falter.

The war in Ukraine has opened up credibility, and for the first time many Russians no longer feel they can trust what their leader tells them. Combined with severe economic sanctions, funds re-allocated to the war, and forced military drives across the country, the costs of this futile conquest are becoming harder and harder to bear.

Even loyal Russians have a lot of questions for Putin now. And the Kremlin lacks ways to withstand the pressure. In the past, a scripted appearance, or a semi-nude staged photo shoot would have been enough to bring back the home media. At times, they even gave independent reporters a chance to ask Putin a sensitive question or two — which he would quickly and vigorously dismiss.

But every recent attempt to make Putin look like a strong and decisive leader has failed so badly—even inside Russia—that after nine months of a devastating war in Ukraine, the Kremlin is running out of ideas. They even canceled Putin’s big annual press conference for the first time in years.

Putin could have ruled longer if he hadn’t started this war but now his days are truly numbered

Julia Galiamina

“Russia, like any other nation, wants to live a stable life without being ashamed of our Moscow leadership. Before the war Putin guaranteed us a stable life but now he tells us that life in Russia will be good only after ten years,” Vera Aleksandrovna, 57, a lawyer from St. Petersburg, told The Daily Beast. “I liked Putin before the war, my son was an IT technician, we liked the IT opportunities in Russia; but now all the brains and talent are escaping from the country, my son has also left and I cannot afford to wait another ten years for a good life.”

Putin’s solid system is falling apart.

Russian chess master Garry Kasparov, an outspoken critic of the Kremlin, told The Daily Beast that we are already entering the endgame for Putin. “Russia has obviously lost the war, which will lead to the collapse of the regime, but the question is how many more people will die before that happens,” he told The Daily Beast.

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“Putin never played chess, the game of rules, he played a poker game,” Kasparov said. “Putin is absolute evil, he has gone mad after 22 years in power; but in his bones he must understand that he can no longer rule Russia when the war is over and tens of thousands of angry soldiers return home with arms, feeling robbed.”

Tatiana Yashina, 62, the mother of jailed opposition leader Ilya Yashin, said the last week had seen a turning point in Putin’s regime.

“Putin is falling apart,” she told The Daily Beast. “He’s clearly lying right in front of the cameras—no confidence in his voice.”

Yashina had particular reason to pay attention to Putin’s state of mind because her son was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison last Friday, but the way the president dealt with the consequences of his unpopular imprisonment—for telling the truth about the war in Ukraine—broke through to the wider population.

Veteran Kremlin pool reporter Andrei Kolesnikov confronted Putin over Yashin’s “beastly” phrase in a video that went viral. Yashina said: “Shaky Putin… lied that he didn’t know my son, then he lied that he didn’t know anything about the sentence.”

Putin’s contortions no longer convince his domestic audience.

Hundreds of independent Russian and foreign journalists have left Russia over the past nine months but some of those who remain, including BBC journalists, continue to cover a commander-in-chief who is losing thousands of his soldiers, as well as some of the main territories in Ukraine. Last week the BBC’s Russian service and the local publication, Mediazona, confirmed the names of 10,002 Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine. The actual Russian death toll “may exceed 20,000 and the total number of irretrievable losses could be as high as 90,000”, the BBC said.

Both independent and Kremlin-controlled polls show Putin has lost support for his war, with less than 30 percent of the country wanting it to continue. “Putin could have ruled longer if he hadn’t started this war, but now his days are really numbered, he’s falling apart and he’s clearly aware of it,” Yulia Galiamina, a Moscow opposition politician, told The Daily Beast. Galiamina has been a victim of police violence, and has been arrested several times but she refuses to leave Russia, instead she encourages more people to stand up against Putin.

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Galiamina leads a movement of more than 150 Russian women called Soft Power. “Most of our women are mothers who see the problems from the point of view of the future of our children without Putin, in a Russia that will finally be free.” Galiamina and Soft Power activists collected signatures from people who speak out against Putin’s mobilization of Russians. “We have collected more than 500,000 signatures, which we will send to the Kremlin, we understand our collective responsibility,” she added.

This is a dead end, his plan failed in Ukraine

Olga Bychkova

Putin is still supported by about 79 percent of Russians according to recent polls but that trust is waning. Studies by Levada, an independent Russian think tank, show that the number of Russians who believe their country is heading in the right direction has already fallen from 64 percent in October to 61 percent in November.

Every attempt by the Kremlin to rebuild the image of Putin as a superman seems to provoke another avalanche of jokes online.

Putin recorded one of his Action Man on location clips earlier this month showing him driving over the bomb-damaged bridge to Crimea. It was to show how fit and healthy he still is at the age of 70 but internet commenters were more obsessed with the car he was driving. It wasn’t one of the Russian-made Ladas he had previously touted – which motorists curse for “breaking down more often than even the cheapest foreign brands” – but a German-engineered Mercedes.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was forced to go on the record explaining that the Mercedes just happened to be on hand, and it was no indication of Putin’s vehicle preferences.

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More damagingly, his foray into internationally recognized Ukrainian territory, now annexed by Russia, came in the same week that three explosions struck strategic airfields inside the homeland, one of them just 150 miles from Moscow. The drone strikes made Russian air defenses and the commander in chief look pathetic, even in the domestic media.

Last week, the Kremlin released a picture of Putin with a glass of champagne in his hand, and it caused an immediate stir many anecdotes about “drunk Putin”.

The prevailing mood is becoming very difficult for the Kremlin to navigate.

“The Kremlin canceling Putin’s big press conference is a sign: they realize how desperate their situation is—this is a dead end, his plan has failed in Ukraine,” well-known Kremlin watcher Olga Bychkova told The Daily Beast. “They still stand by him, because without Putin they are finished; but now they are not even able to write a script, think of questions and answers for him.”

The latest debate among Putin’s critics is whether the disaster in Ukraine is the fault of one man or of the entire Russian society. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oligarch turned prisoner now in exile in London, suggested to Radio Liberty last week that—while Putin took the whole country with him during the annexation of Crimea in 2014—he is now on his own. “The war of 2020 is purely Putin’s invention; Russian society had a shock on February 23,” he said.

The question now is how much worse will the situation get?

Kasparov, an ally of Khodorkovsky, believes that now is also an opportunity for the United States to drive a wedge between the president and his senior lieutenants, such as Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Kremlin’s security council. He says the US needs to explain what would happen if they ever allowed Putin to push the nuclear button. Kasparov said he hoped CIA director William Burns “whispered something in Patrushev’s ear,” at the meeting between the security chiefs in Moscow last month.

After years of adulation across the country, Putin is becoming more isolated every day.


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