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The world is isolating Putin. Here's what that could mean for the war


The war in Ukraine has isolated Russian President Vladimir Putin from the West, and that isolation may be growing. Putin will not travel to attend a summit next month for a key bloc of countries known as BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. It's because of an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. We're joined now by Angela Stent of Georgetown University. She is the author of the book "Putin's World." Dr. Stent, thanks so much for being with us.

ANGELA STENT: I'm glad to be on your show.

SIMON: What are some of the implications of a more isolated Vladimir Putin?

STENT: Well, if you think about the BRICS organization, it was founded in 2009, a Russia-China project. And for him not to be able to go to a summit of an organization that he was so instrumental in creating as an alternative to Western-dominated regional and multilateral organizations, I would say, is a real sign of the isolation.

And we will also have to be watching now for the G-20 summit to take place in India in September. India is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court's Rome Statute, but we have the feeling that the Indian prime minister would probably also prefer not to have to deal with this. So I think it shows that, of course, Putin has been isolated from the West, but it's been clear since the war began that he hasn't been isolated, obviously, from China and a number of countries in the Global South. But the fact that he cannot attend this summit now makes it clear that he's dealing with, I think, greater isolation than he thought he would be a year ago.

SIMON: But it has to be asked, is a more isolated Vladimir Putin more vulnerable and/or more dangerous?

STENT: I mean, he's more vulnerable inasmuch as, you know, this arrest warrant is out for him, and that will really limit his travel. Is he more dangerous? We've seen some prevarication since the short 36-hour mutiny by the Wagner leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin. Putin - it took him most of a day to respond to this. I mean, he had a very angry response in the beginning, and then he sort of disappeared. And it seems that there is certainly more unrest among the elite, that there's probably more political infighting. CIA Director William Burns said at the Aspen Security Forum this week that they certainly see indications of that. So one's sense is that he's more vulnerable, although he's trying to give the impression that he's completely in charge still.

SIMON: Is he more dangerous when he is more vulnerable?

STENT: I think that's what he wants everybody to think. If you go back to an autobiographical series of interviews in 2000 when he became president, there's this metaphor about him being cornered by a rat and then, you know, lashing out at the rat. So he wants people to be intimidated by the idea that he's more dangerous. And, you know, we've seen obviously Russia responding, for instance, to the recent Ukrainian attacks on Crimea with more attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure and things like that. And so in that sense, he wants one to believe that - you know, that more military fury will be released. But we'll just have to wait and see.

SIMON: You have observed President Putin for some time now. What are you looking for that might be next in his actions? What should we look for?

STENT: We have to certainly look at what happens going forward now in the conduct of this war. The Ukrainian counteroffensive is very difficult. It's proceeding slowly but more slowly than it should have. The Russians have built very strong defenses there. I don't think we should expect any new Russian forward movement, but certainly their ability to defend themselves from the Ukrainians.

Obviously, you have to keep listening to what he says about the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons. He's been more silent recently because particularly the Chinese, I think, have warned him explicitly that this is not a good idea. And obviously the U.S. and other countries have too. And I think we have to look, although it's so difficult, to try and figure out what is happening inside the Kremlin, which is probably the most challenging aspect of this.

SIMON: I feel the need to ask you this very directly. Is Vladimir Putin in any danger of being turned out of power one way or another?

STENT: Well, at the moment it doesn't look like that. But Russia always surprises. He still seems to have prevailed. After this mutiny, they're still negotiating with Wagner. And we - Mr. Prigozhin, the leader, is still alive. We don't know how long that will be. I think Putin is trying to give the impression that he's acting very deliberately in response to all of these challenges to him. But I think ultimately, we may see more people disappear.

SIMON: When you say more people disappear, his political opponents will be assassinated.

STENT: Either assassinated or imprisoned. I mean, some of the generals have already disappeared. And we don't know what will happen to Mr. Prigozhin. But if you watch state-run television, information is given out there that has been quite humiliating to him. So I'm watching that very carefully.

SIMON: What advice would you give for the West to deal with Vladimir Putin right now?

STENT: Well, I think we have to continue what we're doing. We've remarkably held a coalition together with our European and our Asian allies. I think we have to push back as much as we can. We have to continue supplying the Ukrainians with the weapons that they need and maybe with greater alacrity than we have done until now. And we have to make sure that the Ukrainians have the wherewithal to rebuild. That's really the most we can do, because clearly the U.S. and the NATO countries are not going to get directly involved in this.

SIMON: Angela Stent is director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University. Thank you so much for being with us.

STENT: Thank you.


Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.