Speculation Mounts of a New Putin Strategy

He questions legitimacy of Zelensky amid reports of meeting with a potential Zelensky challenger
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 27, 2024 11:14 AM CDT
Putin's Moves Reflect a New Confidence
Russian President Vladimir Putin.   (Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP)

Recent moves by Vladimir Putin suggest he's feeling more confident about the war in Ukraine and how the end game might play out. A look at coverage:

  • The purge: Putin dumped his defense chief and has allowed a series of high-profile corruption arrests, and the timing "is most likely a sign that he has greater confidence about his battlefield prospects in Ukraine and his hold on political power as he begins his fifth term as president," per the New York Times. That Putin is shaking up his defense ministry now as opposed to when the war was going worse for Russia might be a personality trait: "He believes that reacting too quickly and rapidly to a changing situation is a sign of weakness," says Abbas Gallyamov, a former Putin speechwriter who is no longer in the country.

  • Casting shade: Last week, on a visit to Belarus, Putin made a point to question the legitimacy of Volodymyr Zelensky as Ukraine's leader, notes Radio Free Europe. Zelensky's term should have ended earlier this year, but the nation has been under martial law because of Russia's invasion. This came in the context of Putin floating cease-fire talks under the current front lines, which have Russia controlling about one-fifth of the nation. "We must be completely sure that we are dealing with legitimate authorities," said the Russian leader.
  • Connecting dots: An analysis by Nick Paton Walsh at CNN notes that Putin's dig against Zelensky's legitimacy came amid reports that former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovich—who is pro-Putin—also showed up in Belarus. "The mere possibility of his presence while Putin and (Belarus President Alexander) Lukashenko met led to speculation Moscow was again hoping to engineer the return of a proxy to power in Ukraine."
  • Purge, II: The AP has more details on the defense officials who have been arrested and the possible machinations behind the move. Graft is widespread, and Putin wants everyone to have "a skeleton in their closet," asserted security expert Mark Galeotti on a recent podcast, because that allows the state to cherry-pick who can get ousted.
(More Vladimir Putin stories.)

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