Putin’s war is threatening Russia’s existence as a state – professor

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Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is doing the opposite of what he intended: strengthening support for Ukrainian statehood worldwide while weakening Russia’s own stability as a nation, an expert has said. His comments come as recent events suggest the Russian President has increasingly been backed into a corner over his decisions on the war.

John Bryson, Professor of economic geography at Birmingham University, said the despot now faces three signs at home of the existence of Russia as a nation under threat of erosion.

He noted the vast swathes of Russians who had left the country since Putin announced Russia’s first mobilisation since World War 2, many young men fearing they will be forced into serving.

The mobilisation has sparked outrage across the country, amid reports of Russians being detained by police if they had been called up.

Those fears have been compounded by the recent successful counter-offensives Ukrainian forces have been able to launch against beleaguered troops, many of whom have reportedly been told their contracts have been extended indefinitely. At least seven are believed to have died in Russian training camps since the mobilisation.

The Kremlin has denied reports in the Russian media that as many as 700,000 people have fled the country since the announcement was made on September 21.

Not only do these people represent a loss of potential economic and military power for Putin, but represents a wider change, Professor Bryson said.

He commented: “These are citizens who no longer recognise the Kremlin’s authority. Effectively, these are Russian citizens in name only rather than citizens who stand side-by-side with the strategies and actions of Russia’s state institutions.”

At the same time, Russian war correspondents on Telegram and even members of the state-controlled media are now questioning the Government on its actions as what was originally anticipated to be a quick and easy victory drags on into its seventh month.

Professor Bryson said this criticism “highlights that there is a significant problem emerging within the Russian state”.

Thirdly, Russia is now “a de-emerging economy or a declining or shrinking nation” thanks to the financial hardship the war in Ukraine has caused, a process which the Kremlin was “driving”, he said.

A recent study by experts at Yale into the state of the Russian economy suggested it was on the brink of collapse, with exports hammered by sanctions, imports slashed, and a mass-exodus of over 1,000 companies.

The authors found that cutting Europe off from its oil and gas supply would hurt its economy more than the European one, as it weakened Putin’s negotiating hand in Asia. A lack of parts meant that Russians were having to cannibalise old appliances for parts.

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Professor Bryson remarked: “Governments, companies, non-governmental organisations and individuals no longer respect the institutions of the Russian state. Too often the institutions of the Russian state have demonstrated that they say one thing and do another.”

As Russia’s state authority appears to crumble, in cruel irony Putin’s horrific actions against Ukraine have advanced its standing as an independent nation in the eyes of the world by decades, making his recent annexation claims far less credible and far more dangerous.

Professor Bryson explained: “Statehood is based not just on a territory that is recognised under international law, but is also founded on a set of institutions that are respected by citizens and other states. Once the institutions of a state are no longer respected by its citizens, and by other countries, then that state ceases to be viable. There is an interesting paradox here.

“Putin’s attempt to integrate Ukrainian territory into Russia has been a fundamental driver in enhancing respect and recognition of Ukraine’s statehood. Ukrainian citizens have become more Ukrainian and countries across the globe, with some few exceptions, are engaging in activities that directly acknowledge the continued existence of the Ukrainian state. Ukraine is now much more of a state now than it was on February 21, 2022.”

He added: “Russia is experiencing an unusual process of statehood in reverse. By October 2022, one can argue that Russia’s existence as a state is threatened. This threat comes not from the West or from Ukraine but from the Kremlin, or by the actions and strategies of all associated with Putin’s special Ukrainian military operation.”

Putin’s recent announcement that Russia has annexed four parts of Ukraine and would defend them with nuclear power if necessary has been widely seen as a desperate bid to galvanise support for the war back home, but it is one that has placed him in an acute position.

Russian forces seem unlikely to make a major breakthrough on the ground any time soon, and Ukraine is waging a searing counter-offensive against enemy lines in the north and south. Putin’s only moves now appear to be a humiliating climb-down or risking his position to intensify the war.

Professor Bryson said the Russian President has to win the “hearts and minds of all Russian citizens”, something he is currently “losing on many fronts and will continue to lose”.

He also said Putin faces a battle for Russia’s international standing, and coming to terms with the fact that any land-grab now would still count as a failure “to override the Ukrainian state”, as it would be “one based on a set of actions that have enhanced rather than undermined Ukrainian statehood”.

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