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Putin supported by majority of Russians but could have rivals within his ranks

President Putin
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By Euronews
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President Putin appears to have the support of everyday Russians but some analysts suggest that his biggest rivals could be those closest to him

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As many as four in every five Russians approve of Vladimir Putin's presidency.  It's a statistic that hasn't changed much since the Wagner mercenary group marched on Moscow in June 2023.

Some analysts suggest that Putin's reaction to the Wagner revolt, led by its commander Yevgeny Prigozhin, serves as a warning to elites. Denis Volkov, the director of the Levada Analytical Centre, explained: "First, he came out with a fairly unambiguous position and then he went and started meeting people, which had not happened in a long time.

"For example, when he went to the people in the North Caucasus, I think that this was done for the elites so that they would not forget who is liked by the people."

Volkov believes the absence of Prigozhin will work in Putin's favour for the next presidential campaign, which will probably run smoother than earlier predicted.

Mikhail Klimentyev/Copyright 2023 Sputnik
People stand next to an informal street memorial for Wagner Group's military group members killed in a plane crash on Wednesday, near the Kremlin in Moscow.Mikhail Klimentyev/Copyright 2023 Sputnik

At present Putin has no mainstream rivals on the right or the left of the political spectrum.

Experts have also predicted the death of Prigozhin is likely to harden Putin's grip on power while the original Wagner structure will be overtaken by the state, including its role in the war in Ukraine.

But Anna Matveeva, a conflict and security expert at the Russia Institute in King's College, London, told Euronews that Wagner's importance is less relevant at the moment. 

So right now, if we're looking at what's happening at the frontlines, there is not that much need for Wagner to be there. The Ministry of Defence has been largely holding the front, if we had some kind of massive Ukrainian breakthrough, then Wagner might be needed.
Anna Matveeva
Russia Institute, King's College, London

"Wagner as a political force or something which could have been used as a genesis for a political force, is probably no longer there. Wagner has largely returned to where it was before Prigozhin took over" she added.

In addition, Matveeva stressed that Prigozhin's rise to power was somewhat predictable, given his connections to the Kremlin: "Prigozhin was one of many, many people who had some kind of connection to the government. 

"But frankly speaking, business in Russia has to maintain some kind of government connection. So in that sense, Prigozhin was not an exception and thus, he was a bit of a colourful personality. But that's what it was".

While Putin has no major rivals within the conventional political arena, other analysts say his biggest challenge is currently the political elite that closely surrounds him.  

Mikhail Klimentyev/Copyright 2023 Sputnik
Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Omsk Region Acting Governor Vitaly Khotsenko during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Aug. 28, 2023.Mikhail Klimentyev/Copyright 2023 Sputnik

According to Sergej Sumlenny, the founder and managing director of the European Resilience Initiative Centre, Putin has very few options and none of them are favourable to him. 

"So now Putin has to demonstrate that A: there is no possibility to sign a deal with him. You will be killed anyway if you protest. 

"B: he needs to kill his officers to maintain order in his own inner circle and C: he got rid of one, more or less, capable commander and remains with incapable commanders. None of these three characteristics of this outcome of events are good for Putin

"You can get rid of Prigozhin or Utkin, his commanding officer, but you cannot get rid of this attitude in Russia, praising violence and calling for more violence, more unlimited violence, and knowingly calling for war crimes" he concluded.

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