The U.S. intelligence community has spoken: Russian President Vladimir Putin was recently treated for “advanced cancer”. Inasmuch as America’s spies correctly predicted Russia’s war against Ukraine, there is no reason to disbelieve this assessment.
What Putin’s illness means is another matter.
It may or may not make him more truculent, more fanatical, more violent. He may or may not die soon. His illness may or may not make him less competent to lead a country the size of Russia.
What we can state with certainty is that Russia’s elites know he’s ill and that a power struggle has already broken out or will soon break out. Who succeeds Putin is now the question that, willy-nilly, will inform all elite behavior and choice of policies.
We also know that replacing Putin while maintaining the system he constructed intact will be very difficult. Russia is fascist, and Putin is the hub that keeps the spokes and, thus, the wheel together. His departure, which may now be considered to be imminent, will create more than a power vacuum that his closest cronies will attempt to fill. It will shake to its foundations the fascist regime. Nazi Germany was unthinkable without Adolf Hitler; so, too, fascist Italy depended on Benito Mussolini for its coherence and existence.
Putin has spent over two decades painstakingly dismantling Russia’s nascent democratic institutions and replacing them with a highly centralized, personalistic dictatorship that derived much of its legitimacy from the personality cult he constructed for himself. That cult represented Putin as the embodiment of masculine vigor. His physical strength presaged and symbolized Russia’s strength. By the same token, a declining Putin would appear to herald Russia’s decline.
His cronies will have to either replace Putin with a dictator of similar vigor, charisma, and popularity—which is probably impossible given the age and physical unattractiveness of these men—or try to tinker with the system in such a way as to make it more amenable to rule by a weaker man. That, too, will be difficult, inasmuch as the Putin system consists of coherent institutions that “fit” according to the logic of dictatorship. It will be hard to replace parts without at the same time affecting the stability of the whole.
Putin’s successors will, like Lenin’s and Stalin’s, probably divide into hard- and soft-liners. In normal circumstances of relative political and economic stability, who would win would be a toss-up. But conditions in today’s Russia are anything but normal. The economy is in freefall thanks to Western sanctions. And the war against Ukraine is almost certain not to end in a Russian victory.
Other things being equal—and of course, they never are—these conditions will favor a soft-liner willing to embark on some reforms, end the war, and repair relations with the West. Putin’s comrades know this and are probably planning their next moves accordingly. Hard-liners probably understand that the longer Putin remains in power and the economy and war continue to deteriorate, the worse are their chances. Coups are now not just thinkable, but probably even inevitable—especially as the U.S. intelligence community also affirmed that Putin was the target of an assassination attempt in March.
With a power struggle taking place in the Kremlin, Moscow’s ability to manage its far-flung realm will inevitably decline. The provinces, and especially those associated with non-Russian nations with proud histories and ample resources, could easily begin jockeying for greater autonomy. If things really go badly in the Kremlin, attempts at independence become likely.
Whatever the scenario, and regardless of who wins the power struggle and how long Putin remains in charge, there is nothing the West can do to alter the course of events in Russia. The temptation to support Putin and the status quo will be as strong now as the temptation to support Mikhail Gorbachev and his status quo was on the eve of the Soviet Union’s collapse. But whatever we do will have at best a negligible effect on Russia’s internally generated tensions.
All the United States can realistically do is prepare for the power struggle, recognize that Russia is likely to become a very unstable place very soon, and reinforce its ties to Russia’s immediate neighbors, who, for better or for worse, will have to bear the brunt of Russia’s descent into instability.
Dr. Alexander Motyl, now a 1945 Contributing Editor, is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires, and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, including Pidsumky imperii (2009); Puti imperii (2004); Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires (2001); Revolutions, Nations, Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities (1999); Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism (1993); and The Turn to the Right: The Ideological Origins and Development of Ukrainian Nationalism, 1919–1929 (1980); the editor of 15 volumes, including The Encyclopedia of Nationalism (2000) and The Holodomor Reader (2012); and a contributor of dozens of articles to academic and policy journals, newspaper op-ed pages, and magazines. He also has a weekly blog, “Ukraine’s Orange Blues.”
June 2, 2022 at 11:03 am
Democratic party should not laugh at Putin’s illness.
You should pray to God for Russia and Ukraine, encourage Zelensky and Putin to confess and repent to God with us, encourage Zelensky and Putin to abandon socialism and make Ukraine-Russia to be under God.
God bless people in the world.
June 2, 2022 at 12:20 pm
Nope, first of of all your god is a scam. Second: The few countries are socialist and most of those have better economies them America. Third: You christtard monkeys are just as bad as Putin.
June 3, 2022 at 4:14 am
God created whole world and bless people in the world.
You are wrong as Alexander Motyl.
You and Putin, Biden think that you are above God, and you are law.
Every people is under you.
You are same as Karl Marx, Adolf Hitler, and Mao.
June 3, 2022 at 9:01 am
Are you really this stupid? Astounding.
June 3, 2022 at 11:06 am
No, they really don’t. Socialism is a horrible economic system.
from Russia with love
June 3, 2022 at 6:50 pm
“Socialism is a horrible economic system.”
can you justify this somehow?
June 2, 2022 at 11:29 am
Putin clearly wants to make his mark on Russian history, in particular as the one who started the process of reassembling the old Russian Empire. We now have a clue as to why he is feeling the urgency of doing what he can sooner rather than later.
I am inclined to think that any hopes for a replacement that will be “better” than Putin are likely to be vain. Whoever the new guy will be, he will be vulnerable and in need of quickly proving himself to be at least as much of a tough guy as Putin was. Caving in and presiding over an abject loss in Ukraine is the LAST thing this person would want to do. If anything, he is more likely to double down.
June 2, 2022 at 1:06 pm
Navalny for President! (I wish…)
from Russia with love
June 6, 2022 at 5:15 pm
the next few years, Navalny will not be able to become president. he is very busy. he sews quilted jackets in prison 🙂
June 2, 2022 at 12:31 pm
Same intelligence operatives that bought the paid for political hit piece on Donald Trump in 2016? Same group that did the illegal surveillance on Donald Trump? Funny how during the Obama years the democrats were cozy with Russia and now all of the sudden the villain of the 80s is back when they need a distraction from the abject failure they have become. Same for the intelligence community as a whole. Until that house gets cleaned out I don’t believe anything they say. “Sky is blue” verify verify verify
June 2, 2022 at 2:46 pm
“La economía está en caída libre gracias a las sanciones occidentales . Y es casi seguro que la guerra contra Ucrania no terminará con una victoria rusa”. ¿Qué contiene esto?. El autor parece que no lee periodicos europeos. No es nada creible lo que se afirma en este escrito.
June 3, 2022 at 1:51 am
A weather report that was right yesterday doesn’t say much about the prediction for tomorrow. That said, I hope he’s right and further, that there might begin a devolution of power to the nations in the Federation and perhaps even separation. Then Russia would become a European nation!
June 3, 2022 at 3:25 am
Russi started war on Ukraine killing civilians raping murdering committing war crimes daily they have flattened half the country,they say escalation if Ukraine attack Russian terror tory,are these Russian scum imbeciles for real they can get all help they want and bombard Ukraine and Ukraine can’t attack Russia. Fuck your putin you little cunt. Keep sending weapons advanced type sink black sea fleet and bombard Russia territories daily reciprocate in kind and de.olish Russian scum of man mi d pure evil stinki g vile scum.
June 3, 2022 at 3:28 am
Attack Russia terrortories flatten Russia set oil depos and installations on fire cut off their money sauce and hang war criminals
June 3, 2022 at 11:46 am
Putin’s painful death from cancer will be further supporting evidence for the existence of God.
What will happen after that?
Well, there will be a special 200 year long Pussy Riot concert in hell with Putin as the guest of honour.
June 3, 2022 at 1:49 pm
“And the war against Ukraine is almost certain not to end in a Russian victory.”
That statement needs support starting with defining “victory”.
Ukraine has put up a fearsome and withering defense. However, offensively they have faltered. Not much happening.
I don’t see Ukraine taking back what the Russia has gained any time soon, if ever.
June 4, 2022 at 12:07 pm
They don’t have to and they ultimately know that to be true. By invading Putin set into motion sanctions that won’t come off until Russia leaves Ukraine in its entirety… yes including Crimea.
June 4, 2022 at 4:43 pm
If Putin dies of cancer then the far right will take over in Russia. Think of Dmitry Medvedev and people to the right of him.
June 4, 2022 at 8:50 pm
LOL, since the US intelligence was correct about one thing, therefore everything they say is automatically believable? You cant make this stuff up. Its like saying the absurdity “who can you trust if not the CIA”.
The sun will set tomorrow. Now that I have said something true, everything I say in the future must be automatically believed.
August 3, 2022 at 5:28 am
I get the point you’re trying to make, but you also know that your comparison is flawed. You are just stating a common fact that everybody already knows to be true, it is not the result of your own research or intelligence, and therefore does not say anything about your future statements. That US intelligence was correct about this, indicates that they have good sources, like maybe insiders, agents, communications taps, satellite images, etc. that led them to their correct prediction. Give that, if they say something about Putin’s health, they may very well be basing that on information from the same sources that appear to be reliable. On the other hand, we also know that in war there is a lot of propaganda coming from all sides, and that in the past US intelligence has also been very wrong about certain things.
Also, Putin IS cancer!