In a surprise move, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin is creating a new paramilitary police force:
“In less than a week, he liquidated the federal drug control and immigration agencies, firing more than 50,000 people, including his longtime ally from the KGB, Russian drug tsar Victor Ivanov. Putin then let Russians know that he had created a new force, called the National Guard, a powerful structure that includes more than 180,000 interior ministry troops plus special police units.
Putin’s shakeup creates a military and police force of up to 400,000 well-trained servicemen loyal to him personally. The newly appointed commander is one of Putin’s most trusted men, a former undercover KGB agent named Victor Zolotov, a man with the massive build and intimidating face of a bodyguard who has been responsible for the security of the Russian leadership for almost 20 years.”
As the good professor points out, “That’s usually what leaders do when they’re afraid of a coup.” The Daily Beast goes on:
“When The Daily Beast asked Putin supporters why Putin decided now to form what amounts to a vast Praetorian guard, they said (privately) that the Russian president is terrified a new Russian revolution will be staged by Washington.
‘Of course, the president is concerned, he can see that the United States wants to overthrow him, like they did to Gaddafi, or look what they have done in Ukraine—they dream of seeing Russia fall apart, so Putin takes measures to prevent a Ukrainian-style coup,’ Sergei Markov, a member of the Duma`s Public Chamber, told The Daily Beast.”
By Putin supporters, this article refers to Putin’s actual supporters in Russia, people who have some inside knowledge of Kremlin affairs, not Putin’s useful idiots in the West.
Returning, to Reynold’s question, Putin’s actions don’t seem to fit those of somebody confident in the support of his people, which contrasts with his sky high popularity that Russian public opinion surveys indicate.
This brings me to the thesis that I proposed a couple of years ago - that recent events have only confirmed: that the root of Putin’s recent bellicosity was the near-disastrous (from his perspective) 2012 Russian Presidential election when he transitioned back to the President’s office from a stint as Russia’s Prime Minister. The whole election was supposed to be a propaganda love-in for Putin, sort of a big Stalinist Kumbaya moment.
The first sign of trouble was when he was booed at an MMA tournament, the kind of event that should attract Putin supporters. Then came the demonstrations against corruption and abuse of power. To counter this, Putin pulled out all stops. Every TV channel covered Putin’s re-election campaign non-stop while ignoring the protests, his opponents, or anything else that might indicate that things in Russia were amiss. The existence of his real opponent, Mikhail Prokhonov, was buried. Only 8% of Russian’s even knew that he was a Presidential candidate. There was widespread ballot-box stuffing. Stories circulated that Putin supporters were bussed from work to rallies as well as the polling booth (and sometimes to multiple voting stations). There were reports that “one third of all electoral commissions had substantial irregularities at the stage of vote counting and tabulation.” It was reported that in some polling places in Chechnya - that traditional hotbed of Putin support – Vladimir Putin received greater than 100% of the vote. The results were so suspect that even the Communist Party didn’t acknowledge the results.
And still - after all that - Putin only received 64% of the vote!
My thesis is that after this near-death experience, Putin quietly said to himself, never again. I think all of his aggressive geopolitical moves, in Ukraine, in the Baltics, in Syria, against Sweden and Finland and Denmark and Great Britain and the US, all of it is designed to foster an Us vs. Them mentality among the Russian people. This is a standard go-to gimmick that demagogues use to drum up popularity and it has worked so far, mostly because Putin has been allowed to win (except in the Ukraine where he increasingly appears to be mired in a Vietnam-style conflict). Nobody has given him a bloody nose – yet.
Of course, as George H W Bush can attest, popularity after a military victory can be fleeting. In spite of his approval rating was 89% after the Gulf War, he went on to lose the Presidential election of 1992 to Bill Clinton badly. If Putin suffers a defeat somewhere, I think this US vs. Them dynamic will boomerang against him hard. Especially as there is nothing else positive going on in Russia these days.
Of course, how much damage this thug creates on his way to the ash-heap of history remains to be seen.