“Force is the doctrine that guides his rule.”
He said Putin was in a “peculiar” situation of operating remotely from “within a bunker” in which he would rarely – if ever – face a critique about his decisions, despite effectively heading the enforcement organisation that upholds his rule on a day-to-day basis.
“Most of the discussions with Putin are virtual rather than in person, but in any case few people are very inclined throw in any doubt whatsoever about anything that Putin says,” Wood said.
“There is no way of having a roundtable discussion as it were about what the implications of anything are – too much rests on his attitude and his ideas, which are rarely questioned.
“He answers to no one and therefore to some extent you can’t tell what his policies are going to be.”
Russia has amassed more than 120,000 troops on the border with Ukraine, with US President Joe Biden telling Zelensky that there is a “distinct possibility” that Russia could take military action against the former Soviet state in February.
Mathieu Boulègue, a research fellow at Chatham House’s Eurasia program, said that Russia had raised the stakes too high to be able to retreat.
“You don’t send close to 100,000 troops and as many people in reserves to prove a point,” he said.
“I mean, we get it, right? It’s an excessive display of toxic masculinity to obtain strategic goals.
“Russia has raised the stakes so high for me at this stage that it seems improbable that it will just simply back down unless it gets something in return.
“And I don’t see how very small, limited, focused attacks or small-scale incursions would allow Russia to obtain the strategic, political effects and end goals that they intend for Ukraine.
“So for me it’s more of an all-or-nothing and giving enough space for Russia to save face – and that will require a lot of space from us in terms of caving into Russia’s demands.”
Wood said that Putin wanted to contain NATO and shrink its capacity to defend European nations in order to establish and maintain more regimes like his own.
“We face a degree of mounting chaos in Russia itself and the end of Putin’s rule could become dangerously chaotic,” he said.
But the signals from the Kremlin were calmer heading into the weekend.
In his interview with Russian journalists, which was streamed live on YouTube by Russia’s English-language mouthpiece RT, Lavrov insisted that Russia would not start a conflict.
“There won’t be a war as far as it depends on the Russian Federation – we don’t want a war,” Lavrov said. “But we won’t let our interests be rudely trampled on and ignored.”
Lavrov also said that the United States’ recent written response to its security demands contained “a kernel of rationality” for a possible compromise on issues like missile deployments and military exercises, opening up the possibility of a diplomatic outcome.
Putin also held a long call with Emmanuel Macron on Friday. Afterwards, the French President’s office said the Russian leader had emphasised that he did not want the situation to escalate.
“President Putin said that he wanted to continue the dialogue and that it was important to work on the implementation of the Minsk accords,” the French official said, referencing a 2014 agreement to end a conflict the Donbas region of Ukraine.
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