Vladimir Putin’s image as an unassailable ‘strong man’ has been a vital component of his political narrative.
This persona, meticulously constructed over two decades, is being undermined by a series of recent events.
In the latest episode od The OSINT Bunker, the panel discuss the Russian Wagner PMC march towards Moscow and the possible fall-out of that incident, the ongoing fighting in Ukraine and the Oryx Team’s OSINT work tracking equipment losses on both sides in the conflict.
George Allison touched upon this transformation in a recent episode of the OSINT Bunker podcast, stating, “I think one thing, you know, is very clear from this and that’s Putin no longer has a ‘strong man’ image.”
Over the years, Putin has been successful in building a narrative of unassailable leadership. His public persona—aided by images of him bare-chested on horseback or showcasing judo expertise—was carefully crafted to depict invincibility and unyielding control.
This paradigm shift, experts Jakub and Austin argue, has been significantly influenced by the dramatic march of the Wagner Group, a private military company, into Moscow. The spectacle not only threatened the stability of Putin’s regime but also tarnished Russia’s global reputation.
Jakub acknowledged the absurdity of the situation, saying, “I think Russia is going to look weakened and quite ridiculous.” He argued that even with the Wagner Group’s 5000 troops marching into Moscow, their impact would have been minimal due to the city’s scale: “5000 troops is not [enough] in such a large city, they could have occupied some buildings…but their forces would be either so diluted, in such a large city, or they would be controlling a very small area.”
Austin concurred with Jakub’s analysis, pointing out the ineffectiveness of the Wagner Group’s approach. In his opinion, successful coup attempts don’t aim to seize territory but to “dominate telecommunication centres,” “dominate the narrative,” and “disable or remove decision-makers.” However, despite the rapid advance of the Wagner troops, there was ample time for Russian leadership to evacuate, rendering their march ultimately fruitless.
Despite the coup’s failure, its implications have been far-reaching. It exposed the fragility of Putin’s administration and his diminished influence, both domestically and internationally. As Jakub aptly concluded, “There is a reasonable case to be made that this showed how weaker Russia is.”
These discussions provide an insightful exploration of the eroding image of Putin’s ‘strong man’ persona, revealing the seismic political shifts occurring within Russia and you can hear more by clicking here.