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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

INSIDE RUSSIA: Pumped-Up Putin Soon Will Deflate




With the successes in Chechnya, Russian patriotism is on the rise - and along with it, the approval ratings of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. It is true that many sociologists are questioning the ratings flickering across their television screens. And not only those broadcast by ORT, the sworn ally of President Boris Yeltsin, but also by NTV - which is considered to be cozy with Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, a stanch presidential foe.


"Putin's ratings are going up, but not at such a tempo," a manager at a leading polling agency told me. "Such a sharp jump contradicts not just the facts but sociological norms." She asked that her name not be printed. She said the ratings were artificially inflated as a result of political intervention.


At NTV, the opinion is that Putin won't be flying high for long. One employee, who also spoke off the record, indicated to me that as the Duma elections approached, Putin's ratings would fall.


Probably there is no better way to describe this other than as a trap that the Kremlin is chasing itself into. That Putin's rating would rise one way or another was doubtless. But it's also without doubt that his ratings are rising thanks only to his decisive politics in the Caucasus.


But the war in Chechnya can never be successful. To win it requires money that is not in the budget, sober-mindedness that Russian leaders don't have and a readiness to fight to the end that too frequently is absent in Russian soldiers.


It is funny to think that our army - in which "surgical strikes" are useless because enlisted men shake the TNT out of the bombs and sell it - could consider fighting a country in which war is considered the one worthy male occupation. You can call Shamil Basayev a terrorist and a criminal all you want. But imagine for a second a Russian commander venturing to send his unit into such a desperate and hopeless enterprise as storming the hospital in Budyonnovsk. Can't imagine it? Right. Generals see in their soldiers not even cannon fodder but slaves who can be put to use building dachas. The soldiers see in their generals primarily embezzlers who aren't capable of staging a raid like that anyway. And anyway, I dare to suggest that even the Americans, who have plenty of cash, would have less success in Chechnya than we have had.


The Russians are stepping on old rakes: The Chechens will hide out the winter in remote mountains and the starving Russian soldiers will pillage villages, sell the Chechens their own weapons and accuse their generals of being traitors. The cruelty of embittered, tormented soldiers will lead in its turn to monstrousness. And here comes the shining hour for Luzhkov's Fatherland party, for TV Center and for NTV. Russian patriotism will need a scapegoat and he will be announced. A couple of military scandals will spark up. All of a sudden it will seem that the money spent on the Chechen campaign has gone somewhere it shouldn't have. The television will show starving soldiers and the generals' dachas, and Putin will be blamed for the whole thing.


The press and television that are allied with Luzhkov will throw up their hands and say, "Yes, he was doing well, but the wind has gone out of his sails." It looks like the Kremlin has chased itself into a much deeper hole than if it had never attempted to pump up Putin's image at all.


Yulia Latynina writes for Segodnya.