（這是一篇嘗試用全程依靠AI編譯的文章轉載，如有错漏，敬请指正。原文請移步：Why Russian Élites Think Putin’s War Is Doomed to Fail ）
Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, has been analyzing how Russian politics have been shaped by the invasion of Ukraine. She argues that Putin's regime may outlive him due to the drastic changes the war has brought to the domestic situation in Russia.
Putin, once a strong leader with a clear plan, vision, and resources to secure the state’s stability, now appears misinformed and hesitant. He is failing to provide a reassuring strategy for how Russia will get out of this crisis.
The overall feeling among Russian élites is that the attempts to win are doomed to fail. This sentiment is held not just by the élite, who view the war as a catastrophic mistake, but also those who believe that Ukraine does not exist as a state and must be “de-Nazified”—which, simply put, means become pro-Russian.
Putin is becoming too “insane” for the progressive-minded groups that understand the restrictions Russia will face, due to sanctions, on its technological and scientific development and too soft for those who believe that Russia must opt for total mobilization (militarily and economically) and bring all its might down on Ukraine.
There is a growing deficit of Putin in Putin’s regime. If he does not retake the initiative, the next crisis the regime faces may cost him dearly.
Putin has allowed a certain amount of criticism of his policies from what might be called his right: the head of the Wagner Group, pro-war bloggers who want more ruthlessness against Ukraine, the security services, who want a stricter autocracy.
原文 Original Article
For the past year, Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, has been analyzing how Russian politics have been shaped by the invasion of Ukraine. Stanovaya has been explaining the Russian political environment to foreign audiences since 2018, when she founded R. Politik, a political-analysis firm, which is now in France. She has recently argued that stalled progress on the battlefield has led Russian élites to become increasingly disenchanted with Putin’s leadership.
I reached out to Stanovaya, who is more comfortable corresponding in English over e-mail; we exchanged several rounds of questions and answers. Our conversation, edited for length and clarity, is below.
In it, we discuss why Putin allows criticism of his policies from the nationalist right, what effective sanctions might actually accomplish, and what the meteoric rise of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group, explains about Putin’s Russia.
You recently wrote that Putin is more vulnerable than most people think. Why is that?
We tend to equate Putin’s regime with Putin himself. It is often heard that if Putin disappears, his regime will fall. However, I caution against this assumption, as the regime may prove to be more resilient, drawn-out, and potentially radical than Putin himself. It depends on the circumstances of Putin’s departure, but in my opinion his regime may outlive him. This is not just due to natural reasons related to age and health but also because of the way the war has drastically changed the domestic situation in Russia.
Putin, who was once a strong leader with a clear plan, vision, and resources to secure the state’s stability, now appears misinformed, hesitant. He is failing to provide a reassuring strategy for how Russia will get out of this crisis. If Putin had conquered Ukraine in the first months of the war, there would be no questions. Not only did he fail but he created a crisis with no clear way out. I am not saying that he does not have a vision, but the way he interacts with the élites and deals with military defeats fuels uncertainty and anxiety about Russia’s future.
This was particularly acute from September to February, when Ukraine conducted a successful counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region, and the West showed firm intentions to supply Ukraine with weapons. Putin responded with anti-Western invectives and threats, sometimes with nuclear hints, but without any explicit road map of practical steps. Today, uncertainty has decreased due to the protracted stabilization of the front line, and there is growing doubt about Ukraine’s capacity to strategically change the military situation and reclaim its invaded territories. However, the over-all feeling among Russian élites is that the attempts to win are doomed to fail. This sentiment is not just held by the élite, who view the war as a catastrophic mistake, but also those who believe that Ukraine does not exist as a state and must be “de-Nazified”—which, simply put, means become pro-Russian.
Putin is becoming too “insane” for the progressive-minded groups that understand the restrictions Russia will face, due to sanctions, on its technological and scientific development and too soft for those who believe that Russia must opt for total mobilization (militarily and economically) and bring all its might down on Ukraine. Moreover, within the latter segment, there is a growing part of the élite who believe it is already too late, that Russia will have to pause the war to launch radical internal reforms with total élite purges, property redistribution, and the imposition of state ideology so that it can return to the war in better shape.
Putin seems to be ignoring all of this. There is a growing deficit of Putin in Putin’s regime. If he does not retake the initiative, and I believe he will not because the situation to him seems not so bad, the next crisis the regime faces may cost him dearly.
Putin has allowed a certain amount of criticism of his policies from what might be called his right: the head of the Wagner Group, pro-war bloggers who want more ruthlessness against Ukraine, the security services, who you say in your piece want a stricter autocracy. Why?
One of Putin’s main features, which we should not overlook, is his sincere belief in his historical “mission.” This means that his moves are not always about situational political maneuvering but sometimes about his conviction that he serves the state that he cultivates. It may seem to the Western audience that I am justifying or sympathizing with Putin, but, as an analyst, I try to understand the internal incentives, motivation, and logic of political figures. Whether we like it or not, Putin believes that he serves Russia’s national interests, even if the way he does it harms Russia more than it helps.
普京的主要特點之一，我們不應忽視，就是他對自己的歷史 "使命 "的真誠信念。這意味著，他的舉動並不總是出於情勢上的政治操縱，有時是出於他的信念，即他為自己培養的國家服務。在西方觀眾看來，我似乎是在為普京開脫或同情他，但是，作為一個分析家，我試圖瞭解政治人物的內部動機、動力和邏輯。無論我們喜歡與否，普京認為他是為俄羅斯的國家利益服務的，即使他的方式對俄羅斯的傷害比幫助更大。
Through this prism, he makes a clear distinction between a right and good opposition and a destructive and hostile opposition. If we look objectively, Yevgeny Prigozhin, with all his public activities during the year, has politically damaged the regime perhaps much more than Alexey Navalny, the jailed opposition leader, has. Prigozhin is much more politically dangerous. He has split élites, attacked the pillars of the regime, such as the army, and challenged Putin’s appointees, and even the Presidential administration, using his own armed militias, and his media allies. He has a much more radical agenda than is usually allowed to spread in the informational space.
And yet, he remains untouchable, thanks only to Putin personally.
The main difference between Navalny and Prigozhin, in Putin’s eyes, is that the former has destructive intentions to ruin Russia and is often used as a tool in the hands of Russia’s strategic enemies—the West. Prigozhin, however destructive he may appear, is guided by pro-Russian priorities and best wishes. In other words, Putin sees Navalny as a betrayer and Prigozhin as a genuine patriot. The same is true of all the radically pro-war public on social networks.
The problem is that it is only Putin who sees things this way. For a significant part of the Russian mainstream élite, Prigozhin, together with “angry patriots,” as domestic-policy overseers in the Kremlin call them, represent a genuine threat that needs to be curtailed. This is another division between Putin and the élites. Many in the leadership believe that Prigozhin is dangerous for the regime, from technocrats who are just horrified by him, to the F.S.B., which consider him a threat. Yet Putin allows him to be. I would not exaggerate the level of Putin’s positive attitude toward Prigozhin, but he sees him as a genuine hero who is sometimes clumsy and goes too far, and needs to be reined in due to his often-emotional outbursts. But he is not an enemy, and deserves to have his own place in the system, regardless of what others think.
問題是，只有普京這樣看問題。對於俄羅斯主流精英階層的很大一部分人來說，普里戈津和克里姆林宮的國內政策監督者所說的 "憤怒的愛國者 "一起，代表著真正的威脅，需要加以遏制。這是普京和上層人士之間的另一個分歧。領導層中的許多人認為普里戈津對政權是危險的，從對他感到恐懼的技術官僚到認為他是威脅的F.S.B.。但普京卻允許他這樣做。我不會誇大普京對普里戈津的積極態度，但他認為普里戈津是一個真正的英雄，他有時很笨拙，走得太遠，由於他經常情緒失控，需要加以約束。但他不是敵人，不管別人怎麼想，他應該在體制內有自己的位置。
In March, there emerged what appeared to be a leaked phone call between Russian élites complaining about Putin. You recently wrote that “the affair has underscored two conflicting trends among Russia’s élites. The first is growing alarm and despair, and a sense that Putin is leading the country over a precipice to imminent doom. The second is the rising stock of the country’s repressive apparatus and the patriotic bloc, which is baying for blood ever more loudly, with its calls for purges and even greater turning of the screws.” How would you describe these blocs and what they want? How do they differ from Putin ideologically?
This division between what I call technocrats and patriots is very conditional but helps to display a larger picture of what is going on in the Russian élite. The first trend is composed of technocrats, civic senior officials, and most of the regional governors, who can only passively observe what is going on. They silently—or sometimes with necessary, ostentatious patriotism—execute Putin’s orders, without being allowed to discuss strategic-level politics, geopolitics, or foreign affairs. They do not have their own agenda, ideological vision, or ambitions. They are very pragmatic and would not play a hero, often preferring to adapt and mimic the environment.
The second segment, which we can call “patriots,” represents a visible and sometimes loud mainstream. They have their own manifold agendas and conservative ideology that are much more radical than Putin’s. We are talking about the heads of the security services; United Russia, the ruling party; those mentioned above, such as Prigozhin; and military correspondents. Unlike the first segment, they have their own diverse recipes for how to get out of the crisis, how to deal with Ukraine, and how to arrange things in domestic policy and the economy. Many of them stand for martial law, total mobilization, putting the economy on a war footing, and a harsher approach to internal “enemies” and “traitors.” Many of them are simply opportunists, existing only to please Putin, guess and meet his needs, and demonstrate their political value.
第二部分，我們可以稱之為 "愛國者"，代表了一個明顯的、有時是響亮的主流。他們有自己多方面的議程和保守的意識形態，比普京的要激進得多。我們說的是安全部門的負責人；執政黨 "統一俄羅斯"；上面提到的那些人，如普里戈津；以及軍事記者。與第一部分不同的是，他們對如何擺脫危機、如何處理烏克蘭問題以及如何安排國內政策和經濟方面的事情都有自己不同的方案。他們中的許多人主張戒嚴、全面動員、將經濟置於戰爭狀態，以及對內部 "敵人 "和 "叛徒 "採取更嚴厲的做法。他們中的許多人只是機會主義者，他們的存在只是為了取悅普京，猜測和滿足他的需求，並展示他們的政治價值。
They are incrementally dragging the country into a more repressive state. The radicalization of domestic policy gains its own momentum and has not been deliberately organized from a single, united center of decision-making. This has even become a headache for domestic-policy overseers who have to figure out how to hold down “patriots” and lower their eagerness. All this repression and tightening of screws that we saw before and especially during the war are the result of internal bureaucratic and political cacophony. There isn’t a particular decision-making center in the hypothetical “Kremlin” where a limited group of people meet to decide in advance who to prosecute, sentence, or arrest. Instead, this repressive process is decentralized, involving many players—although with a dominant role for the F.S.B. Most high-profile cases are of course to be agreed with Putin (who is usually informed after the fact), but not all the cases. This trend has gained momentum and is progressing independently of Putin’s intentions, which are in any case pro-repression, particularly as he delegates these decisions.
他們正逐步將國家拖入一個更加壓抑的狀態。國內政策的激進化獲得了自己的動力，並沒有刻意從一個單一的、統一的決策中心組織。這甚至已經成為國內政策監督者的頭疼問題，他們必須想辦法壓制 "愛國者"，降低他們的急切性。我們在戰前，尤其是在戰爭期間看到的所有這些壓制和緊箍咒都是內部官僚和政治喧囂的結果。在假設的 "克里姆林宮 "中，並沒有一個特定的決策中心，在那裡，有限的一群人開會，事先決定起訴、判刑或逮捕誰。相反，這種鎮壓過程是分散的，涉及許多參與者--儘管聯邦安全局起著主導作用。大多數引人注目的案件當然要與普京商定（他通常在事後被告知），但不是所有的案件。這一趨勢已經取得了勢頭，並在獨立於普京的意圖之外取得進展，而普京的意圖在任何情況下都是支持壓制的，特別是在他授權這些決定的時候。
This may create an impression of a well-managed policy, but only due to the fact that it moves in the same direction. Here is an example: last year, Prigozhin persuaded Putin to allow the recruitment of prisoners to fight in the war. The decision was taken without due analysis and consultation with other bodies. Putin instructed his administration to assist Prigozhin, to open the doors to the prisons for him. This caused outrage among several bodies, including the Justice Ministry, which was formally responsible for the penitentiary system, the Prosecutor General’s office, and the F.S.B. All of them had spent years imprisoning criminals who were now being passed into the hands of an unmanageable “private businessman” with his own army and weapons. There was a risk that they could turn up on the Russian streets in six months like nothing had happened. It took several months to persuade Putin to stop this practice and to pass the job of recruitment to the Defense Ministry, which now operates in prisons much more selectively.
This shows how this part of the élite, the “patriots,” who want Russia to win in Ukraine, have contradictory approaches and visions for how and at what price the state can do it. But these two segments, “technocrat-executors” and “patriots,” have a common ground—they share the feeling that Putin’s political behavior, against the backdrop of the war, is not adequate to the challenges that Russia is facing.
這表明，希望俄羅斯在烏克蘭取得勝利的這部分精英，即 "愛國者"，對於國家如何以及以何種代價取得勝利，有著相互矛盾的方法和願景。但這兩部分人，"技術官僚-執行者 "和 "愛國者"，有一個共同點--他們都覺得普京在戰爭背景下的政治行為不足以應對俄羅斯面臨的挑戰。
At least according to the limited public-opinion data we have, these concerns about Putin are not shared by the Russian public. Why do you think this élite concern about Putin has not trickled down, if you believe that the surveys are accurate?
Despite concerns that we cannot truly gauge opinions in Russia, as individuals may hide their sentiments due to fear or dishonesty, I believe that we still have access to relatively accurate sociological data. This data is provided by independent pollsters such as the Levada Center. Their findings generally align with the data from state-controlled pollsters. As a result, we have a picture of Russian society that is predominantly pro-war, loyal to the authorities, and far from protesting. However, this is not necessarily due to positive support for Putin but, rather, a rational choice to lean on the state as the most capable political institution to protect against perceived external threats that a significant portion of Russian society believes are out to destroy Russia.
The difference between society and the élite is that élites are more directly involved in the war, either as subjects of sanctions, participants in decision-making, or by allocating resources to war efforts. The cost of military defeat would be devastating for them. In contrast, society as a whole has less to lose and is more fearful of a potential nato military attack than a Russian defeat in the war, although the two are related. While the élites view defeat as a direct threat to their personal security—with many potentially being considered accomplices of war crimes—and their future, society was largely removed from the military agenda and decision-making process, at least before the September mobilization.
Now, as the Kremlin increasingly adopts a public strategy of portraying Russia as a victim, the greater the perceived external threat, the more societal support the authorities will receive. The Kremlin effectively exploits these fears by promoting an ultra-patriotic state ideology, a cult of state, and by reintroducing elements of Soviet ideology and institutions. This leads to an increase in mass denunciations and an atmosphere of intolerance toward any hint of anti-war sentiment.
This trend also signifies a creeping militarization of society, which in turn intimidates the élites and leaves no room for any form of disagreement. In my view, the problem with the Russian regime is not that it may collapse from within but that it could transform into something monstrous—ruthless, inhumane, with pervasive digital control and a reign of fear. This is because the price of conceding, especially for élites, would mean the end of Russia as it is currently known.
You have referred to Putin as “misinformed” and “hesitant.” And you have said that he finds the current situation “not so bad.” Elsewhere we have read about how isolated he is. Why do you think he is failing to reassure élites, and why is he unable to get good information?
We should differentiate between two things here. Firstly, how Putin appears to élites, and secondly, how well-informed he truly is. He appears misinformed and hesitant to many in the Russian élite, including high-profile bureaucrats. However, the situation is more complex. While it is true that Putin’s preparation for war and the assumptions made by him and the decision-makers were deeply flawed and erroneous, he is a fast learner. But his awareness is not always consistent and a lot depends on the subject.
Regarding the economic issues—something he has always found boring and willingly delegates—he has been overly optimistic, even inspired by the prospect of an economic breakthrough, while underestimating long-term risks. He also believes that people genuinely love and support him, sharing his main narratives, even though this support is, as I mentioned earlier, more rational and calculated. In Russia, one can often hear something like, “Putin is a corrupt thief, but we will deal with him after the war; now is not the time for political disputes.” Another example: Putin genuinely believes Russia has many friends among Western élites and societies, as well as in the anti-American world. He thinks the world is on the verge of a major shift, with the current international order about to collapse.
Putin can be adaptive and mindful; he knows when to wait, calculate, and make measured decisions. He still has access to objective information, albeit sometimes with significant delays. The problem with Putin is that he has developed powerful filters over time, a belief-system fortress that naturally determines who can reach him and what information can permeate. He self-censors due to his beliefs, causing his inner circle to self-censor, too, to avoid negative feedback. The only mechanism that still effectively provides alternative information is internal conflicts: the F.S.B. denounces the Defense Ministry and figures like Prigozhin; Prigozhin denounces military figures; the Federal Protective Service denounces the F.S.B., and so on. There is no centralized system of information delivery, but as long as people can still reach Putin to complain about their opponents, he will be relatively informed.
However, this doesn’t necessarily lead to high-quality decision-making; it’s more like a seesaw. At one point, Prigozhin succeeds in delivering information and gains Putin’s favor, which contributed to Sergey Surovikin’s appointment to lead the war effort last fall. Then, it’s Valery Gerasimov’s turn—and Surovikin got demoted.
Putin has become quite ineffective at collective decision-making, having grown accustomed to assigning tasks to specific confidants who avoid collaborating with others. This results in flawed and inefficient implementation. He is becoming less isolated than we previously thought—the frequency of his meetings and trips has increased significantly. However, every public move is now staged to cater to Putin’s feelings and beliefs, so even when he ventures out, he only sees what he wants to see. Even if Putin tries to escape his isolation, the system in which he functions as a political figure has been growing increasingly closed, stewing in its own juice, and feeding his most distorted illusions. Over time, and as he ages, this will deteriorate dramatically. In previous years, élites struggled to gain access to Putin, but now they would rather avoid crossing him, viewing his personal involvement as more of a problem than a solution.
Can you talk a little bit about how you gather information and do your work?
This is a very understandable question, especially considering that I have been living abroad for a long time. I moved from Russia in 2010, and at that time, I was working at the Center for Political Technologies, one of the oldest think tanks in Russia, where I stayed until 2018. So, I was among the relatively few people who began working remotely long before the covid pandemic made it commonplace. The development of social networks has made it increasingly common and natural to stay in touch with people thousands of kilometres away. Moreover, social networks are not only about personal contacts but they also steadily replace traditional media, especially when it comes to Russia. You can find tons of exclusive, authentic sources, as well as discussions and opinions with a relatively low level of censorship, in the Russian political segment of Telegram. There are ultra-patriots and war correspondents who provide information on military matters, liberal-minded media, prominent experts, journalists, and politicians. People talk a lot, and the Kremlin, at least for now, allows Telegram to function because it has become a platform of intra-élite communications, including within the Kremlin itself. There are also many official and semi-official Telegram channels, which may not be very popular but publish documents, participate in discussions, and provide the opportunity to ask questions. So, ninety to ninety-five per cent of the information comes from open sources.
As for inside information, it is a highly contradictory question when it comes to Russian politics. On one hand, I have a sort of privilege—I am not considered a journalist in Russia, and I’m not one. Also, I am not perceived as being anti- or pro-Putin, so the authorities, or people close to them, can talk to me without fearing that it will be used against them or published somewhere. Especially with the war, high-profile figures in Russia have practically stopped talking to anyone from “hostile” organizations, such as opposition-minded media. I always say that the goal is not exclusive information but understanding. My primary intention and core principle is to remain objective and cultivate a cold-blooded attitude toward political figures. I know that it often angers those who are anti-Putin and who may consider my approach a way to justify Russian decision-making, but, for me, there are no “bad guys” or “good guys,” because there is no political agenda behind my research.
至於內部信息，當涉及到俄羅斯政治時，這是一個非常矛盾的問題。一方面，我有一種特權--在俄羅斯我不被認為是記者，我也不是。另外，我不被認為是反普京或親普京的人，所以當局或與他們關係密切的人可以與我交談，而不用擔心會被用來對付他們或在什麼地方發表。特別是隨著戰爭的發生，俄羅斯的高調人物實際上已經不再與來自 "敵對 "組織的任何人交談，例如具有反對派思想的媒體。我總是說，目標不是獨家信息，而是理解。我的主要意圖和核心原則是保持客觀，培養對政治人物的冷血態度。我知道這常常激怒那些反普京的人，他們可能認為我的方法是為俄羅斯的決策辯護，但是，對我來說，沒有 "壞人 "或 "好人"，因為我的研究背後沒有政治議程。
The biggest problem with insiders is not how to reach them or make them talk; the problem is the nature of decision-making in Putin’s regime. Only very few, and always different, people know something about upcoming political or geopolitical decisions. You could have a great friendship with Mikhail Mishustin, the Russian Prime Minister, but if you asked him in the first days of January, 2020, when he headed the federal taxation service, whether Putin was preparing for a government reshuffle with Dmitry Medvedev’s removal, he would never confirm it. You could be the closest confidant of Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, but you would never get confirmation from him about Putin preparing to launch the war against Ukraine, because Lavrov simply wasn’t informed.
Access to insiders in Russia is more about subjective things, such as élite sentiments, expectations, hopes, and fears. With the war, the intensity of contacts has increased, as people have a growing number of questions about what is going on, and, simultaneously, shrinking access to the external world. There are far fewer foreign trips, if any, and very limited contacts with Westerners, and a growing hunger for alternative information that is neither “patriotic” nor oppositional, but simply objective.
在俄羅斯接觸內部人士更多的是主觀的東西，如上層人士的情緒、期望、希望和恐懼。隨著戰爭的發生，接觸的強度增加了，因為人們對發生的事情有越來越多的疑問，同時，對外部世界的接觸也在縮小。如果有的話，外國旅行也少得多，與西方人的接觸也非常有限，人們越來越渴望獲得既不 "愛國 "也不反對的另類信息，而僅僅是客觀的。
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that sanctions may finally be hurting the regime. Is that your sense?
This is one of the most contradictory questions an expert has to hear, as it often implies wishful thinking, politics, and activism, rather than objective analysis. As a non-economist, I look at things from a political perspective. Currently, sanctions are consolidating élites rather than hurting them, and the same is true for society. In private conversations, ordinary Russians often express negative attitudes toward Putin, but when it comes to the war, they say that we must put aside our disagreements and stand together to face the external threat aimed at destroying their country. The rallying around the flag has kept the authorities’ approval ratings and support for the war consistently high.
My colleagues and friends who often visit Moscow (unfortunately, I can’t take that risk, but my family is there) say that people are living as usual, and it seems like nothing has changed. Restaurants are open, shops are well-stocked, and there are choices. However, the atmosphere is extremely heavy and grim. While I acknowledge that sanctions are having an effect, they are not functioning as expected. One should not count on a coup, the rise of anti-Putin opposition, or the appearance of anti-war sentiments. Instead, the sanctions will push the regime to transform itself into its darkest state, create grounds for miscalculations, and decrease the competency of the bureaucracy, leading to irrational, mistaken choices. Together with the impossibility of winning the war as planned in the beginning, sanctions doom the regime to end badly.
I understand that you may ask how and when, but I don’t have an answer. It could take a long time, with a slow transition from Putin’s regime to institutional Putinism-without-Putin until the first serious internal crisis. There are many scenarios for how the situation may develop, including the speed of changes, the level of violence, or the nature of upheaval (whether it will come from élites or society). However, the current sanctions provide no path for this type of regime to turn back, to stop the war or consider genuine peace talks; it can only lead to further domestic degradation. It’s not so much about the emergence of anti-Putin opposition as it is about the deterioration of decision-making quality and self-destruction. But even in this regard, one should not be too optimistic, as the regime is quick to learn from its mistakes and adapt to unforeseen consequences. ♦
附1：WSJ Documentary: Inside Prigozhin's Wagner, Russia's Secret War Company
WSJ紀錄片《瓦格納和普里戈津的前生今世》| 中文字幕版 ：
附2: Zelenskyy: Masters of Russia "control nothing"
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