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  • Vincent Mesrine

From 1984 to 2023: How the War in Ukraine Empowered Putin’s Regime.

In George Orwell’s 1984, the authoritarian government of Oceania finds itself locked in perpetual warfare against its neighboring countries, Eurasia and Eastasia. For Oceania, this state of war provided opportunities for extreme social engineering and the creation of systems of oppression and propaganda. For the government of Oceania, they have imposed an absolute dictatorship and total brainwashing of the population through fear mechanisms, largely stated through the necessity and purpose of the regime—to defend against external threats, there must be an absolute ruler to defend the state and its people.

This story was echoed in the weeks and months following February 24, 2022, in which Vladimir Putin first deployed Russian troops across the Ukrainian border. Where many analysts and global leaders predicted Russian economic collapse and the total isolation of Russia into a global pariah state, the opposite occurred. With the initial fervor of the global community tapering off as the invasion pressed on and Russian society adapting to a new normal as Russia strengthens its political, military, and economic bonds with those outside the Western periphery, it’s safe to say that Russia now lies in a position in which it is comfortable for a long-term conflict.

Looking into the domestic situation of Russia, many parallels can be drawn between the ‘Oceania’ of 1984 and Russia. In Russia, there is strong evidence of power consolidation, usage of nationalism, and other forms of social engineering which strongly reinforce the narrative that this war in Ukraine provides ample opportunity to restructure the Russian political system in his favor.

The first signs of this was the immediate response from Putin following the emergence of anti-war protests. Brutal tactics were used against protestors, often being arrested on sight and using violence to beat certain protestors. Opposition leaders across the country were being targeted, such as Yevgeny Roizman, a former Russian Mayor who was arrested for his efforts in the anti-war movement. He, like many thousands of others, face upwards of three years imprisonment or large fines as a part of a larger push by Vladimir Putin to silence opposition and critics. These measures were then followed up by a blanket crackdown on all independent media in Russia, forcing many Western journalists out of the country and shutting down the last independent media stations in Russia.

These measures are only part of the strategy which Putin undertakes to completely undermine the power that opposition has within Russian society—Navalny is gone, protestors rooted out, and opposition non-existent. In fact, the fallout towards Putin, as a result of the war, once predicted by many analysts simply did not occur, indicating the underlying success that the war has had on domestic politics in Russia.

Even by evaluating the impact of the invasion on the Russian economy, it’s easy to imagine how, through the sanctions and corporate withdrawals from, a Soviet, pre-McDonald's lifestyle would return to grip Russian life. Yet, the images which now emerge from Russia are jarring—new companies replace the old, and while the amount of luxury and consumer goods for the average Russian have become more inaccessible, the general quality of life has not greatly diminished for the average Russian family.

Consumer goods such as Smartphones, a staple for daily life anywhere in the world, have exploded in the level of imports from countries such as Armenia, which now exports 10 times the normal amount in recent years. Generally speaking, Russian neighbors such as Turkey, China, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan are now providing excess amounts of consumer goods, significantly softening the blow to the Russian economy as a result of these sanctions imposed on Russia. The most revealing result: Russian trade has now bounced back to the level it was at before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

As a whole, it’s easy to see that the Russian domestic situation has grown almost entirely advantageous towards Putin’s regime. With total control over streams of information within the country, and the total suppression of opposition messaging, nationalistic messages are now being reinforced and strengthened, further providing confidence in Putin’s regime, autocratic or not.

Evaluating in the long term, it’s hard to say what will happen to Vladimir Putin and his regime in the future. As the war boils down to a stalemate, it’s clear that the mismanagement of the Russian military in Ukraine will doubtlessly play a large blow to Putin’s power and reputation on the international stage and within certain political elements within Russia. However, broadly speaking, Putin has strengthened his position and has almost eradicated all remaining democratic elements within the country. Vladimir Putin seems now to be committed to the long-term, planning out how Russia will continue to remain a global power in the future. With how the population continues to support Putin, and how Russia’s political structures now completely work in Putin’s favor, it’s hard to envision a reality in which Putin could be removed in the short-term future.

Regardless of the outcome of the war in Ukraine, Putin’s power has never been more centralized, more consolidated. His rivals are all but silenced, his opposition in government silent to the extent that the mere suggestion of someone being against the war leads to their immediate arrest.

Briefly put, the War in Ukraine has given Putin ample opportunity to re-engineer his powerbase and his status in Russia, making him a long-term player as the autocratic ruler of Russia for years to come.

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