The general discontent in Russian society for the "devastating, bloody and unjustified war" that President Vladimir Putin has unleashed against the neighboring country, against Ukraine, whose inhabitants, like the Russians, are Eastern Slavs and have always been considered « brothers", is more than palpable. More and more businessmen, artists, former high officials, economists and scientists are fleeing Russia. They resign their positions, liquidate their businesses, abandon their professorships, leave their theaters or cancel shows.
Even among those closest to Putin, there are dissensions. The Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, the Chief of the Army General Staff, Valeri Gerasimov, the Director of the FSB (former KGB), Alexander Dvornikov, or the Commander-in-Chief of the Black Sea Fleet, Admiral Igor Osipov, They seem to paint nothing anymore.
Nominally they maintain their positions, but Putin no longer trusts them for miscalculating the offensive, for the high number of casualties and for the slowness with which the advance of the troops is proceeding.
Political scientist Stanislav Belkovski maintains that "Putin has personally begun directing the military operation in Ukraine" with direct orders to officers on the ground. In his words, “Operation Z remains under the full control of Putin. There is not a single figure that can impose a solution that he is not interested in. The Russian president, in Belkovski's opinion, “admits that the beginning of the offensive was unsuccessful and what should have been a blitzkrieg failed. That is why he decided to take command, as Tsar Nicholas II did during the First World War».
The high number of victims among Ukrainian civilians, the atrocities committed in Bucha, the heavy casualties on both sides, the destruction of entire cities, as has happened with Mariupol, and the absence of solid arguments to justify the war have not dissuaded Putin of the need to back down. His almost absolute power allows him to ignore any sensible advice in the absence of counterweights and a more collegiate direction.
And it is that hardly anyone in Russia in more than a hundred years has concentrated so much power as to allow himself the luxury of acting alone. He even allows himself to scold his closest collaborators in public, as happened on February 21, three days after the start of the war against Ukraine, when during a meeting of the Security Council, broadcast on the main television channels, he humiliated the director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Sergei Naryshkin.
In the tsarist era, the Russian crown was one more example of absolutism in Europe at the time, although the power of those monarchs was sometimes distributed in the hands of relatives and favorites. One of the characters who most influenced Nicholas II's decisions was the monk Grigori Rasputin, whom his wife Alejandra considered an "illuminated".
After the October Revolution (1917), the power of its leader, Vladimir Lenin, despite being decisive, was subject in a certain way to the control of the Soviets and the Politburo, the highest governing body and on a permanent basis. Later, with Joseph Stalin already in the Kremlin, the plots were woven at the level of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Politburo, some of whose members ended up being purged, sent to the Gulag or shot. Stalin managed to install a bloody dictatorship, but sometimes under the supervision of the Politburo or some of its members, as was the case with Lavrenti Beria.
After the disintegration of the USSR, Putin's predecessor, Borís Yeltsin, launched a new Constitution with a markedly presidential character. He did it after an armed clash with Parliament, which he mercilessly shelled. But Yeltsin, however, was subject to factual powers such as business, media and controlled to a certain extent by Parliament. He also respected the judiciary. The elections, despite numerous flaws, were described as "democratic" by the International Community. The first president of post-Soviet Russia also had to deal with the military, especially after embarking on a catastrophic war in Chechnya.
The current Russian president, however, from the first moment, began to dismantle the imperfect democracy built by his mentor. He first strengthened his already bloated powers until he achieved a centralization comparable only to that existing in the Stalin era, albeit with the appearance of democracy. He subsequently caused ownership to change hands, especially in the energy sector, in favor of like-minded entrepreneurs. He thus carried out a covert nationalization of the main economic sectors.
Later he undertook it with the independent press. Television channels, radio stations and major newspapers were bought by state-owned companies, such as the Gazprom energy monopoly, or by corporations run by oligarchs loyal to the president.
The next step was to shore up the so-called "vertical power", which led to the abolition of regional governor elections, a draconian and arbitrary party law, an unprecedented screening of non-governmental organizations and the approval of a law against extremism that criminalizes anyone who does not share the official point of view.
The two Chambers of Parliament, taken over by the Kremlin party «United Russia», are true appendages of the Presidency and Justice is a transmission belt for its political interests, as has been shown in clearly rigged processes, including the one that maintains in imprisonment of the main opposition leader, Alexei Navalni.
As Navalni has been denouncing, in Russia the division of powers does not exist, nor do authentically democratic elections, since, according to his inquiries, the manipulation of voting results is commonplace. Putin made it possible to amend the Constitution in 2020 in order to be able to run for two more terms, which would mean staying at the head of the country until 2036.
To dismantle the precarious democracy that his predecessor built, Putin has always used the intelligence services. The need for a "strong state" was always an obsession with him. On that road, many ended up in prison. Others were shot or poisoned without, in most cases, being able to clarify who commissioned the crimes. The number of political exiles has been increasing and now, after the invasion of Ukraine, it has increased to the point that the Russian president has managed to empty the country of opponents.
The result of this ferocious policy is that Putin has removed any counterweight. He has a power comparable to that of Stalin and even more, since he is not accountable to any "central committee." He himself affirms that only the "people" can question his decisions, put him in charge or remove him. And that is measured by elections that his opponents have always considered rigged. So the president alone is the only center of decision in Russia, the only one who gives the orders in relation to the armed intervention in Ukraine.