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Putin’s War in Ukraine Could Mean the Collapse of Russia

Russia Putin
Russia's T-90A main battle tank.

Ukraine War Presages Russia’s Inevitable Collapse – Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first post-Soviet president, rose to prominence after a 1987 speech he delivered at the plenary meeting of the Central Communist Party of the Soviet Union leaked. In the speech, Yeltsin who at the time was the head of Moscow’s communist party lambasted the slow pace of reform and asked to resign. While Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev castigated him for political immaturity, Yeltsin captured a moment and found himself a symbol of the public’s aspirations. He soon found himself chair of Russia’s Supreme Soviet and, once the Soviet Union dissolved, president of Russia.

Unfortunately, Yeltsin was a drunk. He guided Russia through the tumultuous 1990s, but came to symbolize its weakness. Russia’s GDP plummeted as all the former Soviet republics regrouped. The relatively low price of oil through much of the decade compounded the perfect economic storm. In hindsight, however, Yeltsin did much right: He planted the seeds of a democratic system with checks and balances. The Duma, Russia’s parliament, mattered—at least more than it does now. Yeltsin presided over a chaotic system, but a system nonetheless.

Putin, however, is no Yeltsin. He was a former KGB apparatchik who lamented the Soviet Union’s collapse, disdained democracy, and sought to concentrate all power in his own hands. He created crises—including false flag Chechen operations—in order to justify power grabs. Over subsequent decades, he unraveled all that Yeltsin had done.

Today, the ruble stops with Putin. He is the only personality in Russia that matters. He cut off at the knees anyone competent rising through the Russian system to ensure no upstart could threaten him. In effect, he has become Russia’s new tsar.

Here’s the problem: While every democratic wakes up each morning knowing when his or her term will end; every dictator wakes up knowing that today could be his last. Whereas Yeltsin left Putin a structure on which to operate and build, Putin will leave no system on which a successor—even if he appoints one—can operate. When Putin dies, Russia will descend into chaos.

In November 2020, I visited Nagorno-Karabakh, a region contested by both Azerbaijan and Armenia. At the time, Armenians were in a national depression; Azerbaijan was celebrating its victory after the Kremlin’s imposition of terms on Armenia just weeks before which saw Armenians lose half of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding districts. Privately, however, Armenians voiced the reality: Nagorno-Karabakh’s loss was a setback but not the story’s end. Armenia might be down, but it would not be out. When Putin died, Russia’s peacekeepers inevitably would return to Russia against the backdrop of the chaos that would inevitably follow. After all, for Russians, Moscow is the prize, not Stepanakert. The same will be true with the other territories Russia occupies: Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk, and perhaps even the Kurils.

A scramble for not only Moscow but also Russia is inevitable. Putin consolidated not only power, but also cash, property, and other assets. Today, he is among the richest men on earth. Even if Putin appoints a successor, the temptation among every military commander and FSB (the post-Soviet KGB) general will be to try his or her luck. Russia will collapse into chaos.

The Ukraine crisis will catalyze the process. Russian forces were unable to control the Chechen capital Grozny without leveling it. The idea that they can easily occupy the far larger Kyiv (Kiev), therefore, is the product more of Putin’s arrogance than reality. Putin may very well turn to the Grozny plan and destroy Kyiv, but in such a case he will only ruin the very assets he seeks to loot and from which he hopes to profit in the future. In essence, he is akin to a gambler convinced to gamble on a sure thing, only to throw a tantrum and shoot the horse on which he placed his bet.

A question for Ukrainians and the international community will be how to handle post-Putin Russia. Ukrainians inevitably will demand both the return of their territory and reparations. Many will oppose them citing the onerous post-World War I conditions that humiliated Germany and contributed to its efforts to seek revenge just over two decades later.

While some American realists say that the fault in the Ukraine crisis was a lack of generosity toward Russia after the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russian intellectual and opposition figure Garry Kasparov showed the falseness of this argument in his 2015 book, Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped. Simply put, Putin’s rise shows that the problem of the post-Cold War world was too much generosity, not its lack.

It is in the interest of the free world and essential to the stability of the post-World War II liberal order for Russia to collapse. When the country collapses post-Putin, the first order of business will be for the international community or friendly Russian forces to secure its nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons before an unstable autocrat might. Pakistan is not the only nuclear power whose collapse for which the United States must plan.

The West—and East—must also recognize the devils we do not know may be as bad as the one who now threatens the free world. The only solution is to put Russia’s fascist nationalists in a hole from which they cannot re-emerge. Perhaps the problem with Germany post-World War I was not reparations, but its continued unity. Whereas Germans shared a common ethnicity, Russia is as much a multiethnic state as the Soviet Union was a multi-ethnic empire. Crushing Russians with cash reparations post-Putin would empower the most retrograde nationalists as the reparations against Germany provided manna for Adolph Hitler.

This does not mean the United States should respond with generosity. Ukraine and Georgia should instead receive land beyond what Russian forces seized from them. Not only should Ukraine and Belarus be free, but so too should Chechnya, Daghestan, Karelia, Siberia, Tatarstan, and Tuva.

Just as Putin today seeks to signal the establishment of democracy on his borders will result in the diminishment of its territory and sovereignty, it is time to show autocrats from Putin to Xi Jinping to Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Mohamed Farmaajo that their own efforts to expand borders by force will backfire and will cement their legacy as national destruction rather than aggrandizement. It is essential to make Russia pay.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and co-editor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Alex

    February 27, 2022 at 2:01 pm

    Russia has taken into account all the risks, not of a short-term, but of a medium-term and long-term nature. All the efforts of the West to destroy Russia will only lead to one thing – the collapse of the West. Russia asked. Russia warned. Not so long ago, Putin spoke about Russia’s determination to nuclear war. You laughed. Russia’s nuclear forces are now on special alert. Are you still funny, madmen? Do you want Britain under water, scorched Europe and the Canadian-Mexico strait? The West has only one step left to see if Russia is joking and who will laugh later. If there is anyone left in the Western world.

  2. Commentar

    February 27, 2022 at 2:04 pm

    Russia unlikely to collapse, it has faced far worse dangers before, especially when Boris Yeltsin and his robber barons were in charge of the country.

    It was actually Putin who saved Russia from the depths !

    Few people are aware Russia is a vast country, from the Barents sea in the west to the bering sea in the east.

    Russia has a lot of priceless treasures to sell, from special alloys, rare metals, industrial secrets to nuclear tech and nuclear weapons.

    You don’t mess with a country with such credentials, unless you’re a senile leader suffering from early stage dementia, alzheimer, or simply cursed with old age delusion.

  3. FRAZIER STALL

    February 27, 2022 at 2:52 pm

    Not many people understand, not even now, at this late hour, that US is the Babylon of our age. The Babylon that seduces, compels, purchases and blackmails strangers, friends and guests and put a mark on their foreheads.

    Those without the mark on their foreheads will not be allowed to sit at the table reserved for the seductress, eat or drink in all the cafes and shops or trade in the marketplace.

    The people without the authorized mark on their foreheads will have to trade furtively among themselves to avoid punishment by the seductress who laughs at them and enjoys their discomfort.

    But at some point the great super duper fire mountain of Yellowstone will unleash its fury and burn the seductress and her minions to cinders.

  4. Illurion Gray

    February 27, 2022 at 3:04 pm

    Thank you for seeing through the fog Mister Rubin.

    You have good vision.

    I remember when the USSR collapsed.

    I knew it was going to happen a full year before it actually happened, when Moscow Mayor Yeltzen gave his famous speech, and WASN’T PROMPTLY EXECUTED, which had been the standard Soviet response to dissent for over 70 years.

    Putin is on his literal, and political death bed.

    Today is 2/27/2022, and i expect Putin to be dead by the end of March.

    Killed NOT by any foreign power, BUT BY HIS OWN PEOPLE, AND TROOPS.

    The USA lost a little over 3000 troops in Afghanistan in 20 years, and almost 5000 troops in Iraq over 14 years.

    Yet, it appears that Putin has lost almost 5000 troops in Ukraine in ONLY 4 DAYS…..

    Putins abject failure to secure a military victory in Ukraine, will cause him to lose the support of his Military.

    The Military is what keeps Putin in power.

    He has a small gang of thugs that murder all of his political enemies, SO THERE IS NO ONE TO REPLACE HIM.

    And like you say, Putin destroyed the “Democratic” Russia created by Yeltzen, and replaced it with a TOTALITARIAN DICTATORSHIP WITH “ALL POWER” HELD BY HIM.

    When Putin dies, RUSSIA DIES.

    And this will all happen over the next few weeks.

    Putin activated his Nuclear Forces this morning NOT as a warning to Ukraine or any Foreign Governments, but, rather, as a desperate warning to his OWN GENERALS, that HE is still in control.

    I doubt they will be intimidated.

    This is the opportunity his internal enemies have been waiting for decades to arrive.

    And here it is.

    I must disagree with your POST-PUTIN thoughts though.

    Russia will NOT live to rebuild itself.

    Once Putin is dead, i expect that the Chinese will instantaneously attack, and absorb the Russian land and resources into their empire.

    I guess we will wait and see.

  5. J C

    February 27, 2022 at 4:14 pm

    It is time for ukranian allies and the ukranian defence forces to initiative real skirmish activity in Belarus. Let’s get the war over and Putin decapitated one way or a other for the sake of everyone… Russians included.

  6. Вадим

    February 27, 2022 at 4:21 pm

    Banned in the USA Mark Twain (by the way, why?) once I said The rumors about my death are greatly exaggerated)))) before burying RUSSIA, it is better to take care of your country, otherwise, with such inflation, very soon your people will face a reduction in income by at least half!!! Although the dollar as the world’s funding currency can no longer be saved, no, it will not be weak and the patient will simply become a regional currency)))

  7. from Russia with love

    February 27, 2022 at 5:15 pm

    J C:
    “It is time for ukranian allies and the ukranian defence forces to initiative real skirmish activity in Belarus.”
    already started! in Kharkov, a patrol of the armed forces of Ukraine shot a Ukrainian self-defense patrol, mistaking them for saboteurs. fighting has been going on in Kyiv for a week, despite the fact that the Russian troops have not yet entered there. the situation is desperate and the administration of Kyiv began to arm criminals released from prison and issue weapons to everyone without checking documents. these are clear signs of an imminent victory over Putin! #sarcasm

  8. Alex

    February 28, 2022 at 9:31 am

    “Putin, Putin, Putin…” After watching the propaganda, some cannot accept the truth: Putin represents the interests and opinions of the majority of Russians. The Russian opposition is mostly snotty schoolchildren and students who have been brainwashed, but there are very, very few of them in all of Russia. There was always propaganda about Russia when the West was about to attack it. Having committed the most massive crimes in history, the West is trying to appoint the evil Russians. Not funny? No need to run with sticks on a bear because of your Russophobia, Russia will destroy you again, but completely.

  9. Eric-ji

    February 28, 2022 at 11:47 am

    The Russian army & air force are having difficulty with Ukraine. Ukraine! The vaunted Russian military is being exposed as not so great in terms of weaponry and tactics. Based on the Russian performance in Ukraine, NATO must be felling pretty good. In conventional warfare it’s pretty apparent that NATO would pulverize Russia.

    That is why Putin is rattling the ‘nuclear sabre’. He’s just crazy enough to actually use some nukes.

    If he does ‘press the button’ let’s hope his nuclear arsenal is as ineffective as the rest of his military.

  10. Alex

    February 28, 2022 at 12:47 pm

    Russia does not deal crushing blows for the reason that the Bandera Nazis use the civilian population as a human shield, have the MLRS as close as possible to city buildings – this is a terrorist tactic. Over time, even without using weapons of great power, Russia will be able to clear residential areas from these terrorists.

  11. Illurion

    February 28, 2022 at 4:41 pm

    Dear Alex:

    You are just a propaganda troll for Putin.

    You wouldn’t recognize the TRUTH if it slapped you in the face. (which it appears is close to occuring in Ukraine.)

    No “Western” country (other than Germany) has ever attacked Russia, nor are any interested in doing so.

    Your Russia, has NEVER DESTROYED ANY COUNTRY…

    JAPAN kicked your ass.

    The only reason the GERMANS didn’t kick your ass, TWICE, is because each time, in World Wars One & Two, THE “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” CAME TO YOUR RESCUE.

    THRU OUR “LEND-LEASE” PROGRAM, THE USA GAVE RUSSIA THE WEAPONS YOU NEEDED TO DEFEND YOURSELF.

    The USA saved Russia from being defeated in BOTH WORLD WAR ONE & TWO.

    And Russia has never even said, THANK YOU, to the USA.

    AND RUSSIA NEVER PAID THE USA BACK FOR ALL THAT WE LOANED YOU IN BOTH WORLD WAR ONE OR TWO.

    Other than a few natural resources, Russia is of no interest to anyone.

    The Dictators of the USSR & now Russia (Putin) just say these things to FOOL YOUR PEOPLE into keeping him in power.

    The total yearly (GNP) Gross National Product of all of Russia is smaller than that of TINY SWEDEN.

    The ONLY reason Russia is of any significance in this world is because of it’s NUCLEAR WEAPONS.

    All of the MASSIVE CRIMES OF HISTORY that YOU SAY the West are supposed to have committed, ARE ALL IN YOUR IMAGINATION.

    There is no such thing as RUSSOPHOBIA.

    That is all in your mind too.

    The reality of this situation is that PUTIN IS AFRAID OF A DEMOCRATIC UKRAINE.

  12. Alex

    March 1, 2022 at 6:37 am

    Illurion, I immediately see a Bandera Nazi.
    I hasten to remind you that not only Germany attacked Russia, but the whole of united Europe, with all its powers.
    About saving Russia thanks to the United States, it’s better to close your mouth and learn history, what kind of help it was, when it was and how Russia paid for it.
    No need for Japan. Japan became a US vassal after the US, the only country in the world, used nuclear weapons against civilians.
    In the last century alone, the United States has waged wars in more than 30 countries around the world. The most famous are Korea and Vietnam, where tens of thousands of civilians were destroyed, starting with carpet bombing and ending with murders and rapes by US army soldiers. None of the war criminals were punished. And at the same time, the Korean and Vietnamese wars were lost for the United States. Afghanistan was recently surrendered. Do you want to fight against Russia? The largest country in the world with the largest reserves of minerals and the strongest army on the planet? Here are the US wars in the 21st century: Afghanistan, Liberia, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Cameroon and again Libya.
    The level of Russophobia among some Nazis is off scale, hypocrites. I guarantee that not a single Western soldier will return home from Russia alive. And on the Internet, you are all “warriors” in diapers.

  13. from Russia with love

    March 1, 2022 at 7:03 am

    dear Illusion:
    you are either not educated or you are lying. the only truth in your text is the defeat of the Russian Empire in the Russian-Japanese war.
    in the costs of the USSR for the Second World War, your lend-lease is 4% (!).
    in 1941, the most difficult year for the USSR, the SSSO received only 1% of the 1941 lend-lease.
    the USSR paid for all deliveries under lend-lease in gold.
    The main recipient of lend-lease was England, which heroically hid on the island until 1944.
    The economy of Nazi Germany was created by the United States and throughout the war they received a good income from Hitler by selling him military products manufactured at factories owned by US corporations located in Germany. if you don’t believe me, read about the compensations paid, for example, by GM.
    what should you be grateful for in Russia? for the fact that you armed Hitler, set him on the USSR and sold weapons to the USSR?
    oh yes, Japan .. The USSR defeated the Kwantung grouping of Japan in a month in 1945. Immediately after the surrender of this grouping, Japan signed the act of surrender. the destruction of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was just another US war crime.
    what should you be grateful for in Russia? for the fact that you armed Hitler, set him on the USSR and sold weapons to the USSR?
    oh yes, Japan .. The USSR defeated the Kwantung grouping of Japan in a month in 1945. Immediately after the surrender of this grouping, Japan signed the act of surrender. the destruction of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was just another US war crime.
    Are you saying that US crimes are only in the imagination of some people? you don’t know about Wetnam, Korea, Iraq, Libya, and many other countries where the US has invaded? you are completely out of touch with reality.
    are you saying that the neo-Nazi regime that seized power as a result of a coup d’état is a democracy? do you want to say that the power in which the national heroes are the SS Galicia and the UPA who massacred in Valyn is a democracy? you want to say that the regime in which neo-Nazis kill people, journalists, politicians and do not bear any responsibility for this is a democracy? Are you sure everything is fine with your head or are you just uneducated and do not know who you support?

  14. Illurion

    March 6, 2022 at 6:34 pm

    Dear “From Russia With Ignorance”:

    When you talk about “not educated or are lying”, you are obviously looking in the mirror.

    As i sit here writing this, i am looking at an old “48-Star” American Flag from the “World-War-2 era” that is hanging on the wall above my desk.

    It is what i call “George’s Flag”, which is named for my great Uncle George, who fought in World-War-2.

    George did NOT serve in the US military, he was a civilian, serving in the US Merchant Marine as a commercial seaman. He was a Regular Seaman on freighters.

    George served on THREE SHIPS (freighters) THAT TRANSFERED TANKS, MACHINE GUNS, AND GRENADES TO MURMANSK RUSSIA IN WORLD-WAR-2.

    TWO OF THOSE SHIPS WERE SUNK OUT FROM UNDER HIM BY GERMAN U-BOATS.

    Each time he was sunk, he somehow managed to survive the explosions, and survived the sinking, and was rescued from the ocean by American destroyer escorts.

    The second time he was sunk, while he was swimming toward a lifeboat, something got tangled aroung his leg.

    He pulled on it, and found it was a piece of rope, attached to the rope WAS THE SHIPS AMERICAN FLAG, WHICH HAD BEEN HANGING ON A FLAGPOLE ABOVE THE STERN OF THE SHIP.

    That 48-Star American Flag was apparently thrown clear of the ship when all of the ships cargo of explosives blew up after the ship was torpedoed.

    So George wrapped that flag aroung his waist, and resumed swimming toward the lifeboat and was eventually rescued.

    That was in 1944.

    George is long dead, BUT I STILL HAVE “GEORGE’S FLAG”.

    And you are an insult to your Country of Russia, and to mine.

    My Uncle George almost died TWICE trying to deliver weapons to Russia, your people, during World-War-2.

    And THOUSANDS OF OTHER AMERICANS WERE NOT SO LUCKY, AND ACTUALLY DIED ON USA SHIPS THAT WERE TORPEDOED WHILE TRYING TO HELP OUT RUSSIA BACK THEN.

    AND YET “YOU”, ACT LIKE IT NEVER HAPPENED.

    AND YOU LIE ABOUT IT.

    Shame on you, “From Russia with Love”.

    ……….

    As for the other garbage you wrote:

    – Russia did not attack Japan in World-War-2 until THE CLOSING WEEKS OF THE WAR, AFTER THE USA HAD ALREADY DEFEATED JAPAN MILITARILY AT SEA, so the Japanese had nothing to defend themselves with against your small force.

    RUSSIA DID NOT DEFEAT JAPAN, ALL YOU DID WAS “OCCUPY A FEW ISLANDS” after WE, the USA, had defeated Japan.

    – Do not confuse WORLDWIDE “POLICE” ACTIONS that the USA, and the UNITED NATIONS have participated in over the last 70 years as CRIMES. They are all LAWFUL ACTIONS AGREED TO BY THE UNITED NATIONS.

    Whether you like it or not, the World NEEDS a POLICE force to enforce INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS, AND TREATIES.

    Since the end of World War One, that POLICE job has been accomplished by the United States of America.

    – As for the USSR / RUSSIA paying back all of the money that you owed the USA, YOU ARE LYING.

    THE USSR / RUSSIA NEVER PAID IT BACK, AND THE USA “WROTE-IT-OFF” AS A LOSS WHEN THE USSR COLLAPSED. THIS IS PUBLIC RECORD.

    ……….

    In conclusion, Russia has COMMITTED WAR CRIMES IN ITS ATTACK ON THE INDEPENDENT COUNTRY OF UKRAINE, and the United Nations, and practically all Nations of the World have condemned you for it.

    The internet is full of videos of your destroyed tanks, and dead troops.

    We do not yet know how many Russian Trrops are dead yet:

    – Putin says 498 Russian Troops dead.

    – Ukraine says over 8,000 Russian Troops dead.

    Eventually we will know the exact number.

    Try VIDMAX.com to see videos of dead Russian Troops.

    New videos are added every day.

    Todays new videos show:

    – a Russian Helicopter shot down by a missile killing all on board.

    – 3 Russian Tanks destroyed by Ukrainian Forces, with the dead bodies of 7 Russian troops still laying in the street around their destroyed tanks. ( very sad. i feel sorry for these dead boys, and even more so for their poor Parents back at home, who will soon learn that THEY HAVE LOST THEIR SONS. )

    That is all i have to say right now.

    As i originally wrote, i expect Putin to be assasinated by his own Generals by the end of March.

    We will see.

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