Putin ‘cannot now fool the elite’ over his failures in Ukraine

Putin 'cannot fool the elite' despite trying to avoid failure responsibility

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Vladimir Putin is responsible for Russia’s failures in Ukraine, including the loss of Kherson, and no degree of silence will “fool the elite” otherwise, a Russian dissident has said. Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar told CNN that “no decision can, or has, been made without” Putin during the invasion of Ukraine but that the Russian autocratic appears desperate to avoid taking responsibility for the battlefield losses and retreats.  Mr Zygar claimed Putin was trying to blame his defence minister Sergei Shoigu and his newly-appointed leader of the war effort General Sergei Surovikin, hence why it was those two that publicly announced the retreat from Kherson. 

Mr Zygar said: “Everybody knows that [Putin] is running the game and that no decision can be made without him. 

“It is him who has got all the maps and is drawing all the lines, and who is making all the decisions, but he does not want to take responsibility. 

“So, he wants Surovikin and Shoigu to look like they are to blame. He can fool the people but he cannot now fool the elite. 

“He is close to the moment when the elite understands that tomorrow will be worse.” 

When Russia’s top military brass announced in a televised appearance that they were pulling troops out of the key city of Kherson in southern Ukraine, one man missing from the room was President Vladimir Putin.

As defence minister Sergei Shoigu and General Sergei Surovikin, Russia’s chief commander in Ukraine, stiffly recited the reasons for the retreat in front of the cameras on November 9, Putin was touring a neurological hospital in Moscow, watching a doctor perform brain surgery.

Later that day, Putin spoke at another event but made no mention of the pullout from Kherson, arguably Russia’s most humiliating withdrawal in Ukraine. In the days that followed, he hasn’t publicly commented on the topic.

Putin’s silence comes as Russia faces mounting setbacks in nearly nine months of fighting. The Russian leader appears to have delegated the delivery of bad news to others — a tactic he used during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the completion of a retreat from Kherson on November 11, Putin has not mentioned the retreat in any of his public appearances.

Putin “continues to live in the old logic: This is not a war, it is a special operation, main decisions are being made by a small circle of ‘professionals,’ while the president is keeping his distance,” political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya wrote in a recent commentary.

Putin, who was once rumoured to personally supervise the military campaign in Ukraine and give battlefield orders to generals, appeared this week to be focused on everything but the war.

He discussed bankruptcy procedures and car industry problems with government officials, talked to a Siberian governor about boosting investments in his region, had phone calls with various world leaders and met with the new president of Russia’s Academy of Science.

A World War II memorial meeting was the only one in recent days in which some Ukrainian cities, though not Kherson, were mentioned. After the meeting, Putin signed decrees awarding the occupied cities of Melitopol and Mariupol the title of City of Military Glory, while Luhansk was honoured as City of Labor Merit.

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Independent political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin attributed Putin’s silence to the fact he has built a political system akin to that of the Soviet Union, in which a leader – or “vozhd” in Russian, a term used to describe Josef Stalin – by definition is incapable of making mistakes.

“Putin and Putin’s system … is built in a way that all defeats are blamed on someone else: enemies, traitors, a stab in the back, global Russophobia – anything, really,” Mr Oreshkin said. “So if he lost somewhere, first, it’s untrue, and second – it wasn’t him.”

But some of Putin’s supporters questioned such obvious distancing from what even pro-Kremlin circles viewed as critical developments in the war.

For Putin to have phone calls with the leaders of Armenia and the Central African Republic at the time of the retreat from Kherson was more troubling than “the very tragedy of Kherson,” said pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov in a post on Facebook.

“At first, I didn’t even believe the news, that’s how incredible it was,” Markov said, describing Putin’s behaviour as a “demonstration of a total withdrawal.”

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