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Philippe Lemoine


Sep 12

17 tweets

In the debate about why Putin still hasn't mobilized and set up a real war economy, everyone is emphasizing the threat from below it would pose to him, but I think it would also pose a threat from above and, related to both, it would undermine a key pillar of the regime. 1/n

Of course, if Putin tried to mobilize and to set up a war economy, the obvious threat is that it would trigger mass protests and that he would be overthrown, because if people don't back down quickly security forces aren't going to shoot thousands of people in the streets. 2/n

This is what I call the threat from below, but there is also a threat from above. Both are linked to a key pillar of Putin's regime, which is that, like other personal autocrats, Putin is wary of relying too much on any particular institutions or groups of people. 3/n

He is also wary of popular involvement: the deal since the beginning was always that he would make people materially better off and restore Russia's great power status, but in exchange they would stay away from the affairs of the state. 4/n

All of that safeguard Putin's hold on power, because it means that neither the population nor any particular institution or group of people can remove him, but it also makes him weaker because he always has to maintain a delicate balance between them. 5/n

This is the main theme of @Timothy Frye's recent book, where he argues that Putin's regime is first and foremost a personal autocracy, so it shares most of the weaknesses of this type of regime. 6/n…

Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin's Russia…

Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin's Russia

This makes Putin's regime very different from the Soviet Union and other totalitarian regimes, which have a very extensive infrastructure to mobilize the population toward the state's goals, whereas for Putin it's difficult to do that without threatening his hold on power. 7/n

If he mobilized and set up a war economy, it would make the military and people in the economic ministries very powerful and break the current balance of power, increasing the probability that he could be removed not only from below but also from above. 8/n

Mobilization would also involve the population in a way that would be difficult to walk back. It's difficult to tell people to stay away from the affairs of the state when you're sending them die in Ukraine, undermining a key pillar of the regime. 9/n

I think all that makes it very tricky for Putin to mobilize and set up a war economy, much more than it would be for another kind of regime, which is likely why, faced with the choice described above, he chose not to choose. 10/n…

Philippe Lemoine


Sep 10View on Twitter

In a way, this counteroffensive doesn't fundamentally alter the picture I painted before, which is that Putin faces a choice: either he calls it a day and cuts his losses or he mobilizes and set up a war economy. Otherwise Russia can't win and there is no point in continuing.

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This also raises another possibility that isn't often discussed, but which I think is real although I have no idea how likely it is, namely that regime change could occur but instead of leading to peace talks it would result in full-scale war by removing those constraints. 11/n

Of course, any regime that tried to be do that right now would likely face the threat from below because it would probably be very unpopular, but if Putin is removed that's presumably because there was a major disaster and who knows where that could take public opinion. 12/n

Anyway, I was thinking about what could explain Putin's decision not to escalate despite the fact that it has been clear since March that Russia couldn't win the war without committing more resources, and I thought focusing on the nature of his regime was helpful. 13/n

I think this is also related to a widespread confusion that people make by saying that Putin is a Russian nationalist, as opposed to what scholars of Russia call a Russian statist, but maybe I will talk about it another time because right now I need to work. 14/14

I meant the choice I described *below* obviously. Twitter's edit function can't come soon enough...…

I think all that makes it very tricky for Putin to mobilize and set up a war economy, much more than it would be for another kind of regime, which is likely why, faced with the choice described above, he chose not to choose. 10/n…

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Yes, credit where credit is due, it's something that @devcroix ⚔️ 🏵 said recently (specifically about the regime's fear of popular involvement if I remember correctly) that got me thinking about how Frye's book could shed light on this debate.…

Once again Phil is stealing my ideas as always.

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However, despite his claims to the contrary, I maintain that I came up with the phrase "Eastern European standpoint epistemology" and will continue to do so until the day I die!

Philippe Lemoine


I'm a PhD candidate in philosophy at Cornell. I'm also a research fellow at @CSPICenterOrg. I write about stuff. "At least he's pretty smart." (@bechhof)

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