Bernard Lecomte, writer and journalist: “The Russians are not going to rise up against Putin”

Vladimir Putin has weakened. But among those eyeing his successor, only the ultranationalists and the secret services can harbor real ambitions.

As the Russian military continues to suffer frustrations on the Ukrainian front, Vladimir Putin’s political future is being questioned. French writer and journalist Bernard Lecomte is a well-known Kremlinologist. He presents his analysis of what is currently happening in the upper echelons of power in Russia. He is also signing the 2016 revised and expanded edition of Les secrets du Kremlin, which will hit bookstores next week.

When you claim that Putin borrowed money in your book, who will kick him out of the Kremlin?

Let us immediately reject the hypothesis of a people’s revolution – however attractive it may be. It certainly happened before, as after the naval defeat of Japan in 1905 or after the collapse of the front in February 1917. Today, such a scenario is impossible to imagine, because the system is closed by the police, the FSB and the National Guard.

Currently, there is no club of democrats revolving around power in the Kremlin.

Let’s also rule out the hypothesis of a palace revolution initiated by the Democrats – we’d love to. They are either in prison like Navalny, or are refugees abroad, or are hiding in their homeland. If this scenario is appropriate, it is because the democrats do not have access to the power structures. Currently, there is no club of democrats revolving around power in the Kremlin.

But who are the real candidates for Putin’s succession?

There are ultranationalists like Kadyrov and Prigozhin. They represent a real threat. Every day they insinuate their presence and arrogance in the Russian media. A violent takeover of such fachos is a scenario that cannot be ruled out. Especially because the population would not fully object to it.

Moreover, there are still some members of Putin’s entourage who can be called the reasonable camp. We find it there Nikolay Patrushev, The former head of the FSB and the first loyalist of Putin. There is the current prime minister Mikhail MichustinAt the moment, the shop owner is also a former Prime Minister Sergey Kirienko, a technocrat who can also be classified as a reasonable person. To quote the former president Dmitry Medvedevbut today the extremist speaker, as well as the mayor of Moscow, Sergey Sobyanin, appointed to this position by Medvedev. But for one of these personalities to emerge, Putin had to go. But apparently, he has no such intention.

With or without 300,000 reserves, the Russian army will probably lose this war.

Does the army have a say?

The army has always been considered the weakest link of the regime. This is constant in the history of Russia. This is also a paradox because in all dictatorships the military plays an important role. In Russia, on the contrary, there is a culture of subservience to the political authority in the army. Even during Stalin’s time, it came under the control of the NKVD, the ancestor of the KGB. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Army Chief Gerasimov are constantly under fire from critics. With or without 300,000 reserves, the Russian army will probably lose this war. It is symptomatic to see the so-called second army in the world forced to buy drones from Iran and ammunition from North Korea.

The FSB and KRU (military intelligence) offer less flashy faces than Kadyrov and Prigozhin, yet what is their real influence?

The real power is always in the secret services. But with two nuances. First, the two services have always hated each other and sometimes neutralized each other. Secondly, the current FSB cannot be equated with Andropov’s DTK. The DTK was a first-rate political tool, it had very well-trained, multilingual personnel, and it was elite. Today, the big figures of DTK have moved to the private sector and work in American or German multinational companies. this being The FSB is still Putin’s inner circle, but it is no longer omnipotent. Moreover, these are people in their seventies, like Putin. As for the younger generation of the FSB, I have to admit that I don’t know much, but I think that they are unfortunately quite close to ultranationalist circles.

Rumors point to Putin lookalikes being recruited during media operations such as visits to military barracks. Is this believable?

By spending their time analyzing Putin’s cancers or Putin similes, the Western media will eventually resemble the Russian media in their fantasy and madness. Appearance theory is nonsense. Journalists should be careful not to indulge in romantic theses. We look like a car to participate in the parade, but we do not send it to meet the head of state of Iran.

The population will follow the government, whatever it does or says.

Can we measure the degree of Russian public opinion support for war and existing power?

You have to be very careful. At this point, I am happy to refer to the book “Z comme zombies” by the Russian writer Yegor Gran. The Russians are not going to rise up against Putin. The population will follow the government, whatever it does or says. Russia does not have the same culture as us, there is a kind of indifference to politics and respect for all forms of power.

What is the real effect of Western economic sanctions?

Sanctions are constantly faced with the fact that Russia’s underground wealth is the richest in the world. As much as sanctions disrupt economic and social life, they do not affect the state budget. Russia will continue to export oil and gas because the world will continue to consume oil and gas. But it is the budget that allows the war to continue.

If Putin had his back against the wall, could the nuclear option tempt him? Or had he retained enough rationality not to deal with it?

My answer is simple: I don’t know. We should not rule it out a priori, but we should also not fall into the trap it creates for us.

Ukraine now says it wants Crimea back: is it real?

Let’s not be fooled when Zelensky says he wants to return Crimea. We are in the midst of a war that will sooner or later end with negotiations. It is normal for Zelensky to prepare for this second round. On the same day, he may leave Crimea, for example, after a referendum held under international supervision. But if he says he only wants to keep Crimea, he can compromise. Of course, international law places Crimea in the bosom of Ukraine. But everyone, starting with Zelensky, knows that if the people of Crimea are allowed to vote, the result will be pro-Russian.

At the point the two warring parties have reached, negotiations still seem highly unlikely.

Currently, negotiations between the Russians and the Ukrainians are impossible. The Russians are on the defensive on the ground when they have never thought of negotiations other than to resolve Ukraine’s capitulation. Nor is there much to negotiate for the Ukrainians, who have seen part of their territory annexed by Moscow. On the other hand, we cannot exclude the prospect of a frozen conflict based on actual positions not recognized by international law. There are many examples. The war between the two Koreas is not officially over yet. Similarly, the fate of the Kuril Islands is still not resolved. As for the Baltic countries, their annexation to the USSR was never recognized by the international community, but despite this, they suffered under the Soviet yoke for 45 years. All of this is to say that the clogging of something unsaid is certainly a hopeless but nonetheless realistic assumption.

Many Americans are isolationist, but that still doesn’t make them pro-Russian.

Could the result of the midterm elections in the United States be a turning point in the war in Ukraine?

You should not dream about it. I don’t see the US switching sides in eight days. Many Americans are isolationist, but that does not make them pro-Russian. Even if Trump returns to power, it is impossible for the United States to discourage Ukraine.

Secrets of the Kremlin, Bernard Lecomte, Perrin Publications, 416 pages, €22

Key phrases

  • Currently, there is no Democratic Club It revolves around the power in the Kremlin.”
  • “With or without 300,000 reserves, Russian army will probably lose this war.”
  • “Sanctions disrupt economic and social life as much as they do they do not reach the state budget.”
  • “We cannot make exceptions frozen conflict perspective.”
  • “Many Americans are isolationists, however this does not make them pro-Russian.”

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