Is Putin ready to bail?
Last year I published a novel, Pitun’s Last Stand, which imagined Russia’s descent into civil war and its leader’s flight to Nice on the Riviera.
Vladimir Pitun was of course a thinly disguised stand-in for Russia’s real president and dictator, Vladimir Putin.
Little did I know that life would imitate my fantasies.
Not only is Russia embroiled in a genocidal war that threatens to lead to its collapse, but a reliable Russian source has just reported that Putin actually has plans to flee Moscow in case he loses the war against Ukraine!
According to Abbas Galliamov, Putin’s speechwriter in 2008-2010 and currently a political commentator and consultant in Russia, Putin would escape to either Argentina or Venezuela.
The scheme, informally known as Noah’s Ark, was apparently developed in the spring of this year, presumably when Russia’s prospects for a quick victory had evaporated and the very real possibility of defeat suddenly loomed on the horizon.
The original idea was for Putin to hightail it to China, but that was dropped because the Russians decided the Chinese didn’t like losers. That may or may not be true, but it’s certain that Putin would have felt uncomfortable playing third fiddle in Beijing.
If Galliamov’s Telegram report is accurate, then Venezuela, as one of the few countries in the world to have maintained friendly relations with Moscow, is the likely destination for Putin.
And he’s not the only one. According to one report, high-ranking Russian officials are apparently buying real estate in Venezuela, which could portend a mass exodus of war criminals to that unfortunate country.
If Putin does indeed flee after Russia suffers defeat, he wouldn’t be the first dictator to seek refuge abroad. Uganda’s Idi Amin fled to Saudi Arabia. The Central African Republic’s Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa wound up in France. Anastasio Somoza left Nicaragua for the United States and Paraguay. The Shah of Iran fled to France. Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II settled in the Netherlands. The Soviet Union’s Leon Trotsky went to Mexico.
Once abroad, former potentates usually engage in émigré politics and plot their returns. Some refugees, like Vladimir Lenin and Ayatollah Khomeini, return victorious. Most former bigwigs fade away, becoming increasingly irrelevant to goings-on in the countries they once ruled with an iron fist.
Whether or not Putin flees will depend on the extent of Russia’s, probably inevitable, defeat.
As long as he can position himself as the defender of Mother Russia and the protector of the nation, he is likely to be able to survive, even if Russia suffers continual setbacks.
But there are two scenarios under which flight would become imperative. If Ukraine smashes the Russian armed forces and succeeds in driving them out of all its territory, including the Crimea and Donbas, Putin is unlikely to survive such a huge humiliation. If elites and masses then turn against him, Venezuela’s warm climes may be Putin’s only way out. It’s also possible that Putin may be the victim of a coup d’état well before defeat sets in. Were such a coup to take place, Putin’s only hope for survival would be flight.
Galliamov’s report is uncorroborated, but it does make sense. After all, other dictators have been removed for far lesser crimes and debacles than Putin. And Putin knows that, regardless of which scenario turns out to be accurate, he will, sooner or later, be tried for war crimes and genocide at The Hague. And who better to betray and testify against him than his current inner circle?
Putin reportedly has scores of bunkers, some apparently quite lavish, in which he hides—from COVID-19, from the people he claims to serve, and the elites he has implicated in his crimes. He is already in exile and leaving Russia for Latin America would only be a logical next step.
In my novel, Pitun’s Last Stand, the dictator plans a triumphant return to Russia, with the assistance of dubious emigres and European hangers-on. He eventually makes it to St. Petersburg, only to be humiliated before an adoring crowd.
Like Pitun, the real Putin will, if exiled, probably attempt a come-back. That won’t be easy from distant Venezuela, and unlike Lenin and the Ayatollah, Putin is likely to meet his alter ego’s deservedly sad fate.
A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Alexander Motyl 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.”