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Larry Lindsey

President & CEO, The Lindsey Group

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Opinion

Don’t underestimate Putin’s grip on power

Jul 31, 2023

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Larry Lindsey

President & CEO, The Lindsey Group

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Is the Ukraine war also a public relations war? The U.S. has sometimes promoted the idea that Putin’s power may be weakening. First, rumors that Putin had cancer began circulating. Then there was the Wagner Group’s short-lived rebellion against Russia’s military leadership. Putin, on the other hand, is pushing the argument that the West is the aggressor to justify the Ukraine war to the Russian people.

Straight Arrow News contributor Larry Lindsey says before we suggest that Putin could be on his way out, we should keep in mind that Putin is playing the long game, always thinking a step ahead.

Now, again, we’ve been maintaining Putin is a goner from the beginning. First, he was sick — you might remember all the stories about him having cancer. Then we said he was going to be overthrown in a coup. The Prigozhin incident was just another example of that. And so because they’ve been saying it all along, they probably actually believe it. And there’s nothing wrong with propaganda, but when you believe your own propaganda, you may start to make mistakes. 

Now, let’s remember President Biden, just after the war began, said that our objective was going to be regime change in Moscow. And in early May 2022, about 10 weeks after the war started, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said our purpose was to weaken and degrade Russia so it was no longer a threat to anyone. That’s our objective, and if we want to continue to encourage support for the war, it’s probably a good idea to say we’re going to achieve that objective. Hence the whole story about how weak Putin was and how the Prigozhin march threatened him.

The U.S. policy establishment went into high gear when General Prigozhin, the head of a paramilitary organization and Russia began to appear to march on Moscow. Putin, they said, was done. It was just another sign of his weakness. Well, they’ve been saying that since the war began, and it turns out they were wrong again. We now know that Prigozhin actually met with Putin in Moscow, just after the so called march on Moscow ended,

 

There was a quote “deal” brokered by President Lukashenko of Belarus, that was going to allow Prigozhin to go there. But it turns out, he didn’t go there — he’s been spotted in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. And that’s particularly strange because Putin has a habit of making sure his opponents, quote, disappear. Prigozhin has not disappeared.

 

Now, again, we’ve been maintaining Putin is a goner from the beginning. First, he was sick — you might remember all the stories about him having cancer — then we said he was going to be overthrown in a coup. The Prigozhin incident is just another example of that. And so because they’ve been saying it all along, they probably actually believe it. And there’s nothing wrong with propaganda, but when you believe your own propaganda, you may start to make mistakes. 

 

Now, let’s remember President Biden, just after the war began, said that our objective was going to be regime change in Moscow. And in early May 2022, about 10 weeks after the war started, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said our purpose was to weaken and degrade Russia so it was no longer a threat to anyone. That’s our objective, and if we want to continue to encourage support for the war, it’s probably a good idea to say we’re going to achieve that objective. Hence the whole story about how weak Putin was and how the Prigozhin march threatened him.

 

Well, the reality is the Russians have a word called maskirovka. Starts with the word mask, and that pretty much describes it — it’s called denial and deception. And the Russian move did a number of things to NATO. First of all, if Prigozhin was going to be in Belarus, and they also, by the way, sent nuclear weapons to Belarus, who just a few weeks earlier, we just had the NATO summit in Vilnius, which is the capital of Lithuania. The site of the meeting was only 20 miles from Belarus. The NATO people sort of were necessarily worried: they redeployed Air Forces, Army troops, anti aircraft weapons and artillery, and the press was told that that excuse me that the set the site of the meeting in Vilnius was probably the safest place on planet earth. Well, that may have been a side effect. 

 

What are Putin’s real objectives? First, he’s trying to justify a crackdown at home. The argument he makes is that the Russian state is being threatened, and the Prigozhin incident was proof positive that that was actually happening. Second, he’s trying to justify to the Russian people the war in Ukraine, and his justification is the West is coming. The West is coming, and we can’t have them or NATO on Russia’s doorstep. Russians understand that instinctively. Well, his maskirovka kind of worked.

 

NATO at its summit announced they were going to admit Ukraine once the war was over. Well, we’ll see if they actually do that. But that’s very helpful to Putin’s party line about the West, threatening NATO and that being the reason for the war in Ukraine. Second, President Biden just before the summit announced he was going to send cluster bombs to Ukraine. Well, they are a controversial weapon, weapons are weapons as far as I’m concerned, but there are a lot of people who were quite worried about this and giving them to Ukraine, because they have the problem of having a lot of collateral damage.

 

Couple questions. If Ukraine is actually winning the war, as we’re maintaining, why do they need a new and controversial weapon? That’s unclear. Second, if you’re sending this new and controversial weapon, it’s pretty easy for Putin to point out that, yes, NATO really is threatening Russia, and they’re threatening the Russian people — and they’re not just going to fight in Ukraine. And finally, if the U.S. and NATO are going to escalate, Putin can easily use that as a justification for him to escalate.

 

So if you look back at this entire incident, you can see Putin’s maskirovka in practice. He’s an expert. He’s a chess master and chess is a common push in sport. In the meantime, I think that a lot of our foreign policy establishment has a strategy that’s based on checkers.

 

This is Larry Lindsey for Straight Arrow News.

 

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