On Putin’s 70th birthday, Eastern Europe expert Alexander Libman explains how much support the Kremlin ruler still has in Russia and how serious Putin’s threat of nuclear weapons is.
ZDFtoday: What is the current political situation of Vladimir Putin, whose 70th birthday is October 7?
Professor Alexander Libman: This is nothing more than a good political situation for him. He made a big miscalculation with the Ukraine war. Putin, we understand much more clearly now than a year ago, has been overly focused on Ukraine lately. Now, all the target he has set himself here seems to disappear.
ZDFtoday: Do we see a Vladimir Putin changed by Russia’s military failures?
Lebanon: It turned out that Putin was genuinely willing to sacrifice everything to achieve his goals in Ukraine and questioned any support for his power. I’m not talking about sanctions anymore, I’m talking about partial mobilization. It’s an economic disaster for Russia and a disaster for something that has always mattered to Putin: his popular popularity.
ZDFtoday: If Putin is ready for anything, do you think the use of nuclear weapons is possible?
Lebanon: Yes unfortunately. Unfortunately I agree with them, Angela Merkel and Joe Biden are the ones who say we should take this very seriously now. It is important to avoid this scenario.
ZDFtoday: Has the West underestimated Putin’s willingness to risk it to achieve his goals?
Lebanon: The West thought that there were taboos that Putin would not break. Looking back, we know that these taboos did not exist. For example: You have an extremely unpleasant neighbor who doesn’t like you and sometimes tips the trash can, for example. But you don’t think it will burn your house down. Now clearly:
ZDFtoday: How is it possible for the Russian president to single-handedly make unforeseen decisions such as the use of nuclear weapons?
Lebanon: We have a precise term in political science for Putin’s regime, a personal dictatorship where everything is ultimately concentrated in one person. In a personal dictatorship, decisions are ultimately made by a human.
This is how the CIA sees Vladimir Putin’s personality:
ZDFtoday: The supporter of Russia’s atomic bombing is the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, whom Putin appointed as a colonel yesterday. Is it a sign of an upcoming uptrend?
Lebanon: I don’t think you should overdo it. It’s just a symbol, it doesn’t change anything in Russian politics. This is just a nice present for Kadyrov’s birthday (October 5, editor’s note), if you want. Formerly influential Russian politicians could suddenly wear general uniforms on their birthdays.
ZDFtoday: Is Putin still in the presidency or is he slowly becoming dangerous to him?
Lebanon: It seems very strongly that a large part of the Russian bureaucracy is dissatisfied with Putin for various reasons. The problem is that in a system like Putin’s, we have no way of knowing exactly what elites mean and exactly how they want to act. As soon as individual representatives of the elite make their positions public, Putin can act against it. Putin can be sacked tomorrow, that’s possible.
Interview by Lukas Wagner.
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