Mar 25, 2024 - World

Putin's weaknesses, exposed

Russian President Vladimir Putin sits with hands clasped and a flag behind him.

Putin addresses Russians in a speech televised from Moscow. Photo: Kremlin Press Office/Anadolu via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his media echo chamber have been ignoring the Islamic State's claim of responsibility for the concert hall shooting that killed at least 137 on Friday, and are seemingly searching for more convenient scapegoats.

Why it matters: For a president who emerged from the security services and for whom restoring stability and security to Russia is central to his czar-like image, Putin's recent record is glaringly weak.

  • First, the failed offensive on Kyiv laid bare Russia's military shortcomings.
  • Then, in a mutiny led by oligarch-turned-mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, troops and tanks shockingly moved on Moscow.
  • Now Russia's worst terror attack in 20 years hits a Moscow suburb — and it seems Washington saw it coming.

Between the lines: In the aftermath, Putin's moves — initial silence in which aides were left to take the heat, then a claim a "window" had been opened for the suspects to try to escape to Ukraine — were entirely predictable.

  • But that doesn't mean they won't serve his purposes.

Reality check: While some commentators saw the attacks as an example of Putin's loss of control inside Russia, there's little evidence his hold on high-level politics is slipping.

  • He was just "elected" to another six-year term in stage-managed elections, which took place weeks after the death in state custody of his chief critic, Alexei Navalny.
  • Russian media outlets are working to push blame toward Kyiv, and by extension Washington, and away from the president.

The bottom line: In times of turmoil, Putin has repeatedly proved capable of rallying Russians around the flag and against external foes.

  • It's a tried and true formula, though some analysts question whether it will work forever.

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