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What Happens When Putin Dies?

It is believed that peace in Ukraine can be had once Putin is gone. Some Westerners even fantasize that if they can oust Putin, then democracy can finally reign in Russia.

Russian President Putin.

The Russo-Ukraine War has raged for more than a year with no end in sight. While the Ukrainians have led a gallant resistance of their land, the fact of the matter is that Russia is not apparently going away. In fact, the war is expanding. Someone—we do not know for sure who did—attempted to assassinate Russian strongman President Vladimir Putin in his official presidential palace, the Kremlin, with a drone

Putin was not killed. 

Some have speculated that this was a false flag on Putin’s part to justify an expansion of his ongoing war in Ukraine. Although, this seems unlikely. Given the amount of investment that Ukraine has placed into its drone capabilities, it is more than likely that either Ukraine or its allies launched an assassination attempt against the Russian autocrat. 

The war is getting nastier in Ukraine and unlikely to abate soon

As it drags on, both sides will become increasingly desperate. Putin spent months in 2022 trying to decapitate the Ukrainian leadership in Kyiv. The Ukrainians are possibly returning the favor. Even without the Ukrainian factor, though, there has been a concern for many months that Putin’s life is at risk from people in his inner circle

Whether Putin is murdered by a disgruntled member of his siloviki or if the Ukrainians manage to score a lucky shot against Vladimir Putin, the fact remains that the world may soon be living in a post-Putin world. Forget about the assassination possibility. Putin is in his 70s. He has already exceeded the average life expectancy of most Russian males today. At some point soon, Putin will be dead-and-gone. 

What does that portend for both Russia and the world?

Getting Rid of Putin Makes Things Scarier

Putin is the embodiment of the old Russian concept of the Silnaya Ruka, the iron fist.

This is a belief shared among Russians since the earliest days of Russia that their country needs a strong, central authority—and autocrat—to keep their country strong and united. Putin is playing that role in Russia today. He has spent years squelching or coopting any alternative power center. 

Even today, when there are those around him who fear what the Ukraine War may cost Russia, most Russian elites are not willing to go against Putin because they fear that taking him out would precipitate the collapse of the Russian state.

Who was succeed the would-be tsar of modern Russia? 

Frankly, the leadership is not very deep, since Putin has spent much of the last decade purging his regime of any possible rival. Russia is a sprawling land (the largest country in terms of land that cuts across a whopping 11 different time zones) with a long history. 

It is a nation defined by its centrifugal forces. If the center is strong, those centrifugal forces orbit the center like a gravity well, keeping the nation together. When the central authority is weak or gone, Russia is torn apart by its centrifugal forces.

Of course, there are some men who might be on the hook for replacing Putin. One of the names we often hear is former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, who has become a bit of a gonzo Twitter personality, begging for peace with the West on one hand, and then threatening nuclear war on the other. 

Still another name is Nikolai Patrushev, who is a senior foreign policy adviser to Putin as well as a former KGB officer and head of the KGB’s successor, the FSB. The man knows where most of the bodies in Russia are buried. 

Then there is the Right-wing Russian nationalist movement as represented by the eccentric Russian geopolitical theorist, Alexander Dugin. Most recently, Dugin was in the press for the attempt on his life that left his adult daughter dead and Alexander Dugin shaken up. Many rumors abounded as to who was behind the car bombing of Dugin’s daughter. 

Some speculated that it was, in fact, the Russian security services because Dugin had made several public statements criticizing what he viewed as the weak response by Vladimir Putin to Ukraine’s “aggression”.

Since the assassination, however, many have concluded that the Ukrainians were behind the hit. Nevertheless, Dugin is a highly influential member of the Russian elite. His writings and speeches have influenced at least two generations of Russian military, political, and diplomatic leaders. If the West were successful in ousting Putin from his reign, it is likely that someone from Dugin’s side of Russia’s political divide would take power. 

In other words, a younger, more violent Russian autocrat would arise.

Breaking Russia Apart: Be Careful What You Wish For

Already in the Western press there have been a retinue of stories anticipating the breakup of the Russian Federation into its constituent parts. In Moscow, they read these stories as previews of what the West intends. 

Another story that has played out consistently has been regime change in Moscow. The recent drone attack on the Kremlin might be part of that plan. It is believed that peace in Ukraine can be had once Putin is gone. Some Westerners even fantasize that if they can oust Putin, then democracy can finally reign in Russia.

All these notions are entirely fanciful. The two most likely outcomes of a Putin ouster would either be a far nastier autocrat arises to replace Mr. Putin and things get bloodier in Europe. Or, more disturbingly, Moscow cannot put forward a strong enough leader to keep Russia together, and the whole country breaks apart

Warlordism and civil war—with loose nukes, biological, and chemical weapons floating around—defines Russia. Suddenly, Russia looks a lot like the Greater Middle East, and the West is in a constant state of fear over who would control Russia’s massive arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

There are no good options for a post-Putin Russia. While Vladimir Putin may be a devil for US foreign policy leaders, he is at least the devil we all know. He is going to be dead soon, one way or another. But to expedite that fate, as the West clearly seeks to do, would be to destabilize an already unstable situation in Russia and risk the most unpredictable of outcomes that will negatively impact the world for decades to come. 

The only thing scarier than a Russia resurgent in Europe as led by a wannabe tsar, like Putin, is a Russia that has collapsed into its constituent components and is at war with itself. That is precisely what will happen if Putin is removed from power. There will be no containing the chaos that would be loosed from a broken Russia at war with itself and its neighbors. 

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A 19FortyFive Senior Editor, Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (May 16), and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (July 23). Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.

Written By

Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who recently became a writer for Weichert is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as a contributing editor at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (March 28), and Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (May 16). Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.