Russian President Vladimir Putin has worked diligently to thwart any threat to his rule from liberal critics. Journalists disappear. Political challengers are imprisoned or poisoned—or both. And anyone who shows any sign of disloyalty can meet with a mysteriously tragic demise. Intimidation and exile have cleared Putin’s left flank. His more significant domestic troubles lie elsewhere.
The real threat to Putin’s hold on power, and to the cohesion of the Russian state, emanates from the right. In particular, it comes from those who not only support Putin’s war against Ukraine, but want to see it fought more forcefully, and who are now losing patience with the hapless performance of Russia’s military.
Among Putin’s far-right critics, a new constellation of forces is taking shape, one that is heavily armed, active and outspoken: players with their own battle-hardened militias.