I think Putin’s gains in Russia from taking center stage in Ukraine are underestimated. He’s in the world news, the non-Russian world news, and world leaders are jumping for a chance to talk to him. Every day he’s in the news, he raises his profile in Russia. This is sort of like winning games of chicken. I don’t think Ukraine wants to play this game of chicken, but in the question, ‘Should Russia and Ukraine play chicken?’ Russia has the biggest vote.
As such, Putin gains the longer this conflict goes on. Belarus and Russia just extended their wargames, extending Putin’s PR wins.
The Russians are notoriously skeptical of Russian news, but Putin is dominating the BBC, Reuters, and CNN. Right now Russians who don’t get their news from RT and Pravda are inundated with Putin. If the standoff continues, Putin’s airtime on non-Russian media continues. If Russia invades Ukraine more openly, Putin’s airtime on non-Russian media continues in a bigger way, albeit with higher risk. Putin has demonstrated an incredible tolerance for risk. If Putin stands down, he will lose some of that media play, and perhaps more importantly, what remains will be ‘West defeats Putin’ or ‘Putin bows to Western pressure’ etc. This is the risk of playing chicken.
Navalny has largely dropped out of the news, even as his next kangaroo court trial for another decade or so come up. Points to Putin here. I don’t know how long that trial is going to go, but the longer the Ukraine crisis extends, the more that trial gets hidden.
The real trick here is to try to empathize with Putin. He doesn’t see the world from my perspective; he sees it from his. So to predict what he’s going to do, I need to at least understand his perspective. And North Korea’s Kim has taught me that autocrats tend to play to their base, not the outside.
Hell, American politics teaches me that. However our elections, while not perfect, are pretty good at reminding our politicians other people exist.