Russian leader is discredited at home and losing support from allies; experts point out that Russia will be even more isolated if nuclear weapons are used
A member of the service of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk passes a banner at the doors of a polling station
THE Russia started on Friday, the 23rd, the annexation referendums of four regions of the Ukraine: Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk and Luhansk. Until Tuesday, the 27th, the authorities intend to go door to door to receive the votes. Denis Pushilin, the pro-Russian separatist leader of the Donbass industrial region, said in a Telegram message that “Donbass is Russia”. “The voice of each of you will confirm the truth,” he added. The referendums add to the tension of a week marked by the mobilization of 300,000 reservists announced by the Russian president. Vladimir Putin, who also threatened to use the nuclear arsenal to protect the territory of his country. This measure is a way for Russia to try to contain the advances of Ukraine, which since the beginning of the month has been superior in the war. Specialists also explain that Putin wants to use the annexations to reverse the situation of the conflict and, if Kiev enters any of these places, he can attack and say that he was only protecting his territory. Moscow also appears that this is the most radical moment of the war.
The annexation of the territories completely violates Ukraine’s sovereignty, explains political scientist Leandro Consentino. “Invading is already a violation, now annexing becomes an escalation, because you despise that country and say that those lands are yours.” Kiev and its Western allies have already said they will not recognize the results. “What we have is an attempt to neutralize advances to bring these territories to Russia and argue that they are defending themselves from attacks. From the moment you annex a region, you can say that you are not attacking but defending,” he adds. This is Putin’s attempt to reverse the defense of sovereign rights. Doctor in international relations Igor Lucena explains that the advances in eastern Ukraine and the retaking of territory by the troops of Volodymyr Zelensky are concerns for Russia. “She is afraid that these advances will be reversed in defeat.” Since the beginning of September, Ukrainian troops have recovered thousands of kilometers from regions that were under Russian control since the beginning of the conflict. The fact that the referendums are invalidated by the international community may cause, after seven months of conflict, Russia to make a declaration of war using the argument that Ukraine has invaded its territory, reversing the order of what is happening and trying to force Kiev to surrender, adds Lucena. The nuclear threat posed by Putin this week is a blackmail to the Ukrainians to surrender in these territories. “It’s a third or fourth strategy for Russia to try to come out the winner,” she concludes.
“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect our citizens. This is not a bluff,” Putin said in a televised address to the nation. But like Zelenksy and Western countries, experts don’t believe the Russian is serious. “When you threaten with nuclear weapons, you go one step further that most countries don’t approve of. The allies themselves would find it difficult to defend Russia,” explains Consentino. “Nuclear threat is the strongest card because you jeopardize your very existence. Everyone thinks it’s a bluff”, points out Lucena, adding that if Putin uses them, “he loses support in Russia and becomes more isolated by other nations”. He sees this move as one of the Russian leader’s last moves in this “international chess move”.
As Kherson and Donbass (made up of Donetsk and Luhansk) are not entirely pro-Russia, one scenario that we can expect for the next few days is an escalation of the conflict. Consentino says it will be a complicated, costly, non-peaceful process and likely to cost lives. “Russia will bet its cards heavily on this.” Like other international analysts, he also predicts a pro-Russian victory. Even because, if the result is different, Moscow will be destabilized in the war and the Putin Era is approaching its end. “He already has a weakening of support within the country. There are people running away not to be summoned and even if Russia is not a democratic regime, Putin needs popular support. If he doesn’t succeed, he could jeopardize his government for so many years,” says Consentino. Moscow and St Petersburg have already started a petition to call for the Russian leader’s resignation.. Deputies from 18 municipalities signed a petition that read: “We, the municipal deputies of Russia, believe that President Vladimir Putin’s actions are harmful to the future of Russia and its citizens. We demand Putin’s resignation as president,” wrote Ksenia Thorstrom, a deputy from St Petersburg’s Semenovsky district.
Despite the latest moves, Lucena finds it difficult to assess whether Putin is discredited within Russia. But she says her loss of credibility is a fact. “We have no way of measuring popularity because the country is basically a dictatorship. Now, when you call people to war and you have a mass flight of the population, it shows how unwilling Russians are to support the war.” The expert also points out that, as the conflict progresses, other nations begin to criticize Russia. “If Putin uses nuclear weapons, he will have an enemy in China,” he notes. According to him, if the Russians lose the support of Beijing, India and Turkey, the economy will collapse. “If these countries support Putin when he uses nuclear weapons, they destroy their own domestic politics.” Lucena concludes that this move “is the highest bluff, because it [Putin] knows the consequences, and even authoritarian nations would not condone that decision.” For him, the Putin Era may be coming to an end. More than that, Putin also jeopardizes the political unity of the Russian federation, because nobody knows what will happen if the government is toppled. “We are talking about an autocracy. We don’t understand what happens with Russia’s isolation and the end of the war.”