RIGA - At the moment, Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime is domestically stronger than ever and it is almost certain that Putin will run in the upcoming presidential elections in 2024, but until then he will try to achieve at least minimal success in the war in Ukraine, as the Constitutional Protection Bureau says in its annual report.
Due to the failures in Ukraine, Putin's regime had to domestically pay great attention to risk and threat management, as well as mobilization of resources at all levels. As a result, the already extensive restrictions and persecutions rose to an almost totalitarian level. On the other hand, the elite, contrary to some expectations, consolidated even closer around Putin as the guarantor of the existing system.
From the regime's standpoint, mobilization of resources necessary for the war turned out to be not so successful and currently Russia lacks weapons and equipment for its soldiers. However, in general the developments in 2022 strongly suggest that Russia will have enough resources for continuing the war for at least another year, believes the Constitutional Protection Bureau.
Also, despite the challenges caused by the war, Putin's regime remains stable and its existence is not threatened, at least in the near term. The number one priority of Putin and the regime's elite is, more than ever, to stay in power.
After Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the media in Latvia and other countries often commented on decentralization of Russia and decline of Putin. In the Constitutional Protection Bureau's opinion, the actual situation is rather the opposite: domestically, at least right now, Putin's regime is stronger than ever before. As a result of continuing and intensified persecutions, the regime has ensured almost complete control of the Russian information space.
Political opposition has been destroyed. As a result of propaganda and persecutions, the majority of Russian society is intimidated and apathetic, and distances itself from politically sensitive issues.
The elite largely aligns with Putin and controls all the major instruments of power, from the legislative and judiciary to the executive branches, including the army and the security and intelligence services. Those dissatisfied with the war have been forced to leave Russia and, at best, lost their status and prosperity.
Putin's clinging to power may at times look like weakness. This was the case, for instance, in the conflict between the Russian Defense Ministry and ultranationalist Yevgeny Prigozhin. However, this rather demonstrates the nature of Putin's regime - he has to balance and reconcile interests of various members of the elite and groups without giving any of them an overwhelming advantage.
It is almost certain that the 70-year-old Putin has to deal with various health problems, but in general he is considered relatively healthy, both physically and mentally. Considering Putin's views and beliefs, his actions are rational and natural. In the Constitutional Protection Bureau's assessment, these views are based on revanchist nostalgia for the Soviet empire, conservatism, as well as a dogmatic belief that Russia has been deceived after the collapse of the Soviet Union and is constantly under threat.
At the top of Putin's hierarchy of values there are physical strength, superiority, loyalty and consensus. He is characterized by an obvious lack of empathy. In general, Putin is a relatively typical autocrat with mediocre abilities, whose main goal is to hold on to power as long as possible.
The gap between the Russian propaganda and the real personality of Putin continued to grow bigger in the past year. It became increasingly clear that the Russian leader was afraid of the public and was only ready to participate in sterile and pre-arranged interactions with the people.
Putin lacked the charisma and courage to tell the Russian people bad news or inform them of unpopular decisions. They were mostly entrusted to subordinates, leaving Putin with only the good news.
Contrary to Putin's original plan, the war he started in Ukraine also became a domestic political problem in Russia. The fact that Ukraine is able to attack Russia on its territory has caused and will continue to cause more problems for Russian security institutions, especially the Federal Security Service.
Putin's regime managed to mobilize several hundred thousand people for the war in Ukraine. However, mobilization also revealed the generally low motivation of the Russian people to voluntarily die for the insane ambitions of a narrow circle of elites.
The mobilization also shed some light on the surprisingly poor material provision of the allegedly second strongest army in the world - many recruits had to purchase their own uniforms, weapons and other equipment.
Western sanctions initially caused a shock to the Russian economy. However, the high price of energy and the decisive policy of the Central Bank helped to maintain a relative stability for the Russian economy, at least in the short term, and guaranteed a sufficient funding for the war.
Contrary to some expectations, the Russian economy, which is mainly focused on the export of natural resources, was not immediately destroyed by the external pressure, mainly due to its size, integration into the global economy and control of the state.
Russian economy will continue to decline for half a year or so, followed by a prolonged stagnation, gradual degradation and increased dependence on the Asian countries, especially China.
At least during 2023 sufficient financial resources will be ensured mainly through increased taxes, use of reserves and borrowing in the internal financial market.
Mobilization will increase Russia's labor problems, making it more and more dependent on migrant workers from neighboring countries.
It is almost certain that Putin will run in the upcoming presidential elections in 2024, and until then he will try to secure at least minimal victories on the battlefield in order to present them to the public and the elite as his success. He will most likely announce his participation in the elections at the end of 2023.
Putin will probably implement another mobilization to send tens of thousands of Russian citizens to a certain death, while continuing to lead the country via video broadcast, says the Constitutional Protection Bureau's annual report.