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Is Vladimir Putin Getting Closer To Being Ousted?
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, without any apparent resolution via international diplomacy, some commentators are wondering whether the conflict might be ended by the removal of Vladimir Putin from power in Russia. Iver Neumann believes that it is the beginning of the end for his regime, predicts Neumann, adding that focusing on the legacy of President Vladimir Putin might push Russian leaders toward an all-out invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s war in Ukraine has placed fresh strains on his regime at elite and popular levels. Still, the fact remains that President Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a highly efficient autocracy with robust safeguards against coups and revolutions. As his war on Ukraine progresses, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle suggests there will be no respite from Russia’s more significant confrontation with Europe and the United States.
If Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reputation was not already abysmal prior to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine Crimea, President Vladimir Putin is now even more widely seen as volatile, unreliable, and distrusted – and these are more generous descriptions for a leader who has ordered and overseen a brutal, devastating assault on Russias smaller neighbors. In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have scored a series of military victories. Russia has begun pulling back from eastern Ukraine, and the Russian autocrat appears to be becoming more isolated, with American intelligence reporting his advisers are not giving him an honest assessment of the war.
In particular, many experts are asking whether Russia’s annexation of Crimea–Russia’s “little piece of land”–could have a spectacularly damaging effect on Russian President Vladimir Putin, leaving him vulnerable to a revolt back home, with falling standards of living, or to a coup led from within by members of his political and business elite. With Russian forces making slower headway inside Ukraine, some analysts think Putin would threaten an escalation of the war by calling for massive mobilization; others imagine formal annexation of Ukrainian territory; others, an announcement of victory with reduced goals. Given these uncertainties, it is worth considering what could happen next for Russia at war if Putin falls from power.
A military uprising against Putin is more likely than before the Ukraine invasion, but the odds against one are still long. A revolution against Putin has grown more likely since the start of the Russian war in Ukraine; indeed, it is expected to be more likely than a coup. Although, I am not convinced a likely elite plot against the Russian leader would have made a move until after the significant Ukraine defeat.
Over time, the war would make Putin much harder pressed to juggle the twin threats of elite takeover and popular uprising. With risks mounting on all sides, the Russian war in Ukraine is going to be a war of attrition, economically, politically, and morally, said one former US administration official.
A war of attrition would fail in drawing Ukraine into the Kremlins orbit; it would instead imbue hatred for Russia into Ukraine, which would take decades to reverse. All this is added to credible claims that this campaign should ultimately result in humiliating defeats for Russia. They would be fatal to the Russian state’s prestige and power and the Putin regime itself. Russia’s crippling military losses, and the practical limits on possible mobilization, mean the war is rapidly becoming impossible to win against an adversary enjoying high morale and unparalleled international support.
As the war approaches its third-month mark, Vladimir Putin is now quickly running out of options for avoiding a catastrophic defeat that would shatter Russia’s claim to military superpower status and threaten the future of his entire regime. Russian President Vladimir Putin is digging in for a protracted war of attrition against Ukraine. According to members of Russia’s business elite, he will be unrelenting in trying to wring Western support away from Kyiv with economic weapons like the Ukrainian grain export blockade. Russian President Vladimir Putin has few options other than continuing Russia’s war on Ukraine, hoping that the Ukrainian grain blockade will cause instability in the Middle East and trigger another wave of refugees, said Sergey Guriev, former chief economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Those who believe the Russian autocrat is unlikely to survive the war argue that, even if he had almost complete control over the media, heavy economic sanctions would make it difficult for Russia to sustain support for the long-running conflict. There is a real possibility that Russians could continue to hold large parts of eastern Ukraine for the foreseeable future. There is danger, though, in translating Russia’s difficulties at this early stage in a heated war into more significant assumptions about state sclerosis–that Moscow’s armed forces are unfit to do their jobs, that its struggles in Ukraine have exposed a corrupt system, that Vladimir Putin is a paper tiger, that the Putin regime will itself soon collapse.
It may be hard to speak about such a low-probability event as his regimes fall. In a recent Fox News appearance, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) brought up something that he believes is the solution to the Russian war in Ukraine: somebody, maybe a member of Russia’s armed forces, would take down President Vladimir Putin’s government, either through assassination or a coup.
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