MOSCOW – Russians think they know their president.
They were wrong.
And by Thursday, it seemed too late to do anything about it.
For most of his 22-year rule, Vladimir V. Putin displayed an aura of calm determination at home – the ability to manage risk with acumen to navigate largest country in the world through dangerous shoals. His attack on Ukraine negated that image and showed him as an entirely different leader: one who dragged the nuclear superpower he led into a war with no prior conclusion, someone who by all means appeared to end Russia’s three-decade post-Soviet attempt to find a place in the peaceful world order.
Stunned Russians woke up to learn that Putin, in a speech to the nation broadcast before 6 a.m., had ordered an all-out attack on what Russians of all political circles often call their “brother nation”.
There is no spontaneous pro-war jubilation. Instead, liberals who have for years tried to compromise and accommodate Mr. Putin’s escalating authoritarianism find that they are not posting on social media about his objections. them for a war they have no way of stopping.
Other Russians present themselves more openly. From St.Petersburg to Siberia, thousands of people took to the streets chanting “No war!” Clips posted on social media showed that, despite the large presence of police officers. OVD Info, a human rights group, says more than 1,700 people have been arrested across the country.
And in Moscow’s foreign policy establishment, where analysts say Putin’s military build-up around Ukraine has been an elaborate and shrewd hoax in recent months, many people admit admitted Thursday that they had seriously misjudged someone they had spent decades studying.
“Everything that we believed turned out to be false,” said one such analyst, emphasizing anonymity because he did not know what to say.
“I don’t understand the motive, the goal or the possible outcome,” said another. “What’s happening is very strange.”
“I always try to understand Putin,” reflects a third analyst, Tatiana Stanovaya of the political analysis firm R. Politik. But now, she said, the usefulness of the logic seems to have reached a limit. “He has become less pragmatic, and more emotional.”
On state television, Mr. Putin’s most powerful propaganda tool, the Kremlin has tried to project an atmosphere of normalcy. State media described Thursday’s invasion not as a war, but as a “special military operation” limited to eastern Ukraine. Mr. Putin had a meeting with the visiting Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, as if he was still doing his day-to-day business wisely.
Maria V. Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “This is not the beginning of a war. speak on television. “Our desire is to prevent developments that could escalate into a global war.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s stock market plummeted 35% and ATMs ran out of dollars. On the country’s internet, which remains largely uncensored, Russians have seen their lauded military sow slaughters in a country where millions of them have relatives and friends.
“The world has turned upside down,” said Anastasia, 44, protesting the war in central Moscow on Thursday night despite the mighty presence of riot police officers, and burst into tears. She only gave her name out of fear of reprisal. “I can’t even imagine the consequences; this is a disaster. ”
Many Russians have believed the Kremlin’s story that they are a peace-loving country, and that Mr. Putin is a careful and calculated leader. After all, many Russians still believe that it was Mr. Putin who brought their country out of the poverty and chaos of the 1990s and turned it into a place of decent living and international respect. important.
“It’s strange that Russia can attack anyone,” a 60-year-old pensioner said Thursday as he walked through Moscow’s stunning Zaryadye park, which was pre-designed by international architects. ahead of the football World Cup that Russia is hosting in 2018. “This has never happened before in history ”.
Like many on Thursday, she refused to reveal her name for fear that the outbreak of war could entail a new crackdown on people’s freedoms.
Marina Litvinovich, one of the country’s declining rights activists, called for an anti-war rally to be held in Moscow on Thursday night, and was arrested immediately. Police and riot police buses descend on Pushkin Square, where she has urged people to gather. An actor posted a directive from the state-run Moscow theater, declaring that “any negative comment” about the war would be considered “treason” by the authorities.
For the past three months, when American officials have warned that Putin’s military build-up is a prelude to an invasion, the Russians have dismissed such rhetoric as a failure of the West to fight back. understanding the president’s fundamental resolve to manage risks and avoid rash moves with unpredictable consequences. And with the leading figures of the opposition imprisoned or exiled, there are very few characters who can influence to organize an anti-war movement.
Some public figures with ties to the government reversed course, although they realized it too late. Ivan Urgant, the most prominent late-night comedian on state television, mocked the idea of a war lurking on his show earlier this month. On Thursday, he posted a black square on Instagram along with the words: “Fear and pain.”
Understanding Russia’s Attack on Ukraine
What is the root cause of this invasion? Russia considers Ukraine to be inside its natural sphere of influence, and it became irritated by Ukraine’s proximity to the West and the prospect of it joining NATO or the European Union. Although Ukraine is not included in this category, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
Ksenia Sobchak, another TV celebrity whose father was the mayor of St.Petersburg and a 1990s mentor to Putin, posted on Instagram that from now on she only “believes in worst-case scenarios.” possible” about the future of his country. Days earlier, she had praised Putin as a “mature and worthy politician” compared to his Ukrainian and American counterparts.
She wrote on Thursday: “We are all stuck in this situation. “There is no exit. It will take us Russians many years to deepen the consequences of this day.”
During the pandemic, analysts have noticed a change in Mr. Putin – a man who isolates himself in a bubble of social distancing with no companionship among Western leaders. When isolated, he seems to become more distressed and more emotional, and increasingly speaks of his mission in clearly historical terms. His public remarks delve deeper into distorted history as he speaks of the need to be properly aware of the historical mistakes Russia has suffered over the centuries at the hands of the West.
Political scientist Gleb O. Pavlovsky, a close adviser to Putin until his defeat in 2011, said he was shocked by the president’s dark description of Ukraine as a threat. terrible for Russia in an hour-long speech to the country on Monday.
“I have no clue as to how he got all of that – he seemed to be reading something completely strange,” Mr. Pavlovsky said. “He became an isolated man, more isolated than Stalin.”
Stanovaya, the analyst, said she now feels that Putin’s growing obsession with history in recent years has become key to understanding his motivations. After all, the war against Ukraine seems strategically inexplicable, as it has no clear solution and will inevitably only increase anti-Russian sentiment abroad and escalate Russia’s confrontation with Russia. NATO alliance.
“Putin has brought himself to a place that he considers more important, more interesting, more compelling to fight for historical justice than Russia’s strategic priorities,” Stanovaya said. “This morning, I realized that a certain change had taken place.”
She said that in all appearances, the ruling elites around Mr. Putin did not realize that Thursday’s war was coming and were uncertain about how to respond. Apart from state TV personalities and pro-Kremlin politicians, few prominent Russians voiced their support for the war.
But that, she said, does not mean Mr. Putin risks any form of palace coup, given his grip on the country’s vast security apparatus and widespread campaign of repression against those dissent in the past year.
“He can still act for a long time,” Ms. Stanovaya said. “Inside Russia, he’s practically safe from political risk.”
Alina Lobzina and Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting from Moscow, and Ivan Nechepurenko from Rostov-on-Don, Russia.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/24/world/europe/putin-russia-ukraine.html The Russians have now seen a new side of Putin: Dragging them into war