Is There Any Personal Risk for Putin now?

The blitzkrieg in Ukraine has failed, the sanctions began working
and Putin was becoming the biggest problem for his cronies.

Engraving „Murder of Tsar Paul I of Russia, March 1801 (1882-1884)“/ Wikimedia Commons

All people want to know what's coming.

Barry Pavel, a senior vice president and director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, described four ways the war in Ukraine might end:

1. The Western sanctions, Ukraine’s military and civilian resistance stops Russian troops on the outskirts of big cities and after a while Putin has to withdraw them.
2. Russian troops take over Kyiv and install puppet regime, but face constant and strong insurgency from Ukrainians with Western support and sanctions. Putin has ultimately to withdraw his troops.
3. Russian troops take over Ukraine, install puppet regime and violently suppress all protests of Ukrainians. A new Iron Curtain appears from Baltic to Black Sea.
4. NATO escalates its involvement in Ukrainian crisis and Russia needs to retreat or start a war with NATO.

Mr. Pavel correctly notes that “these four scenarios reflect plausible outcomes—but they hardly exhaust all possibilities.” Indeed, there can be many variants of development of the events. For example, an interesting story happened in Russia in the beginning of 19th century with Emperor Paul. His pro-German sentiments and unpredictable behavior made him unpopular among Russian nobility, and he was secretly assassinated by his own officers on March 23rd (O.S. March 11th), 1801. I wonder if history will repeat itself 220 years after with Mr. Putin.

Mr. Putin is an authoritarian leader and this is neither good nor bad, he is just what he is. As a president of Russia he has managed to create an absolute monarchy for himself, since he expanded his influence across executive, legislative and judicial branches of power in the country. For example, on March 4th, 2022 Russian State Duma (a lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia) unanimously (!) passed a law prohibiting calling the war in Ukraine “a war”. The penalty is up to 15 years in prison. At the same time, the country is formally called “Federal semi-presidential republic”. In fact, Mr. Putin has turned Russia into empire and became an Emperor under the guise of the President.

The most important thing in this position is the "Emperor" is responsible for everything good (but also for everything bad) in a country, and the opposition cannot be blamed for whatever because there is no real opposition in such kind of a state. Even if there is one it's just a formality, and it's clear to everyone. That's why everything is clearer about the authoritarian model of state structure than with the democratic one.

Thus Mr. Putin is the only one who is responsible for everything that happens in Russia, especially since he has been in a leadership positions there for over 20 last years.

By starting a war in Ukraine, Mr. Putin raised the stakes considerably – for Ukraine, the West and for Russia, too.

Ukraine and the world had to surrender or fight (realistically and economically - by sanctions). Ukraine did not surrender and did not allow a blitzkrieg – the only big city Kherson yielded to the enemy so far. Russian troops got stuck in Ukraine.

As of March 2, Ukraine reports (and the Western sources confirm that) that Russian troops have already lost about 6,000 soldiers killed/ wounded. Russia’s Ministry of Defence has said that only 498 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine and 1,597 more sustained wounds.

Since the end of February, the West has been imposing quite harsh sanctions and now the Russian elite was loosing the access to their money, villas, yachts, etc. in Western countries and cannot even get there.

However, Russian elite has money and capabilities just like Mr. Putin does. Now Mr. Putin will have to personally answer for the results of his activities - first to his elite, then to all Russians and (I hope) to Ukraine and the world after. The worse the situation is in Russia (and right now it is not good), the more a temptation and, perhaps, the need arises to remove Mr. Putin from the leadership of the country and blame all the problems on him.

Yes, Mr. Putin probably lives in a bunker and is hard to be reached, but someone is serving, guarding him, etc. He has to contact with someone from the outer world. These are the people who may quickly solve the current big problem of Russia, Ukraine and the world. This problem is Mr. Putin himself with his wrong (or right) vision. So he should be more afraid of the Russians than of the Ukrainians or the West right now.

I invite you to read a translation of the article on this subject written by Russian historian Andrey Zubov.


Andrey Zubov

What's coming now

March 2, 2022

Apart from all the horrors that come to us from the theater of the fratricidal Russian-Ukrainian war (it will go into the history under this name) and the fears that torture us at home every minute, I want to analyze the situation, so to speak, from a bird's eye view.
Any society is always like a pyramid consisting of layers by their proximity to power and the influence on it. But in democracies this pyramid is flat, with a sharp angle of the base and an obtuse angle of the top, and in personalist autocracies (absolute monarchies, tyrannies) - with a very sharp angle of the top and with base angles only slightly below 90 degrees. Our society is a typical example of such an elevated autocratic pyramid.

Its "deep people" layer is about 80%. This is the base of the pyramid. They are usually people who live poorly or simply poor, they prefer television to the Internet to get a picture of the world, they have either never traveled abroad or are satisfied with the protected beaches of Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Hainan. They are spontaneously anti-American, even though they have never been to America. This anti-Americanism is a consequence of an envy complex combined with a little education. Often in their heads, the picture of the world is wrapped up in conspiracy theories, pseudo-history, and other strange notions. They are passive and now, though dissatisfied with life, they are obedient to authority.

These people in the present circumstances mostly (about 70%) support Putin's war in Ukraine, believe in bloodthirsty anti-Russian "Banderites" and the evil West, which Russia opposes. But they do all that without a fanaticism. They would prefer not to send their children to the war and they wish to avoid the hardships of war. There are very few fanatics among them. Those who will go to war as volunteers will do so rather out of poverty and despair because of their unfulfilled life.

The second layer of the pyramid is 18-19%. These are intelligent, cultured people who use the Internet extensively, they have been abroad, and know the world quite well. Many of them have sources of income independent of the government. Some of them, on the contrary, work in state corporations, in the bureaucracy, serving the authorities, but are not welcomed in there. These people are often, but not always, wealthy. They might even have a small estate in Latvia or Bulgaria, or even an apartment at French Riviera. A clear understanding of the world prevails among these people, many of them have strong moral principles and value freedom. Others, on the contrary, sell their talent to the authorities and in exchange for their silence receive good salaries in universities, bureaucracies, and controlling businesses. Among this group, about 70% disapprove the current war, stating so publicly in one way or another. Quite a few representatives of this group, shocked by the latest events, right now are changing their loyal attitude to the authorities into moral confrontation with them, resigning from public office, state mass media, etc. But not all loyalists do this. An example of the position of the protesting majority in this group would be the actress Chulpan Khamatova, the loyal minority – Gergiev.


Finally, a vertex of the pyramid, its tip, 1-2% of the population which are the main beneficiaries of the current Russian system. These people are fully devoted to the authorities. They are also educated and understand everything. They have not just an apartment, but villas in the West, keep large deposits in foreign banks from Switzerland to the UAE and participate in international business. Those are officials of the highest rank, the heads of state corporations, so-called deputies of State Duma and the Federation Council, governors, and multiple-star generals of the army, FSB and GRU. They sold their freedom to Putin, and received rich and free life in exchange. They are unconditional executors of Putin’s will, but not for ideological reasons, but for purely selfish ones. There are high-minded persons like Mr. Dugin or Mr. Vaino among them, too, but they are few in number. And the most important - their ideas are different and they try to implement them through "access to the Putin’s body”.

At the moment, terror and frustration prevails in the "elite" group. The main words in the offices of Kremlin, Lubyanka and Old Square now are "he cheated us”. Putin has nullified all their sweet lives by launching the Russian-Ukrainian war, making their money and their villas in the best places of the world inaccessible to them. He demands even more loyalty regardless that their complicity in this war makes many of them the war criminals and subjects of the Hague Tribunal's attention. That is not the thing they agreed with Putin. In addition, they may face the Great Terror if the current regime, being rejected by the whole world, will keep on its aggression. And also there is the perspective for them to be turned into nuclear ash. That’s not an interesting perspective for the owners of ocean yachts, collections of Rolls-Royces and Lamborghinis, masterpieces of painting and cozy villas among the vineyards of Tuscany.

These people are no longer loyal to Putin. Why should they lose everything they have gained, and even their very lives? And without them Putin is no longer a great tyrant, but just an old man hiding in a bunker. Even the famous red button, which was so adroitly portrayed in “Charlie Hebdo” magazine, can now be pressed, but no one will fulfill Putin’s wish. A few fanatics don't count. They will simply be isolated just like the tyrant who made a mistake.

Putin cannot appeal to the next stratum - it is either against him or loyal for the same reason as the "elite" and will back away from him along with the elite.

And Putin will not be able to appeal to the people - he is whoever, but not the people's leader. These people will not follow him even if they sympathize with him. They have long been accustomed to passivity and alone survival in front of TV, but not to the people's revolution.
If Putin would win the war in Ukraine in two days and the West wouldn’t imposed crushing sanctions, he would have retained the loyalty and even mystical enthusiasm of the elite like Hitler got in 1939-41, and the full support of the people. The intelligentsia would have been split and isolated. But Putin lost the war, failed to carry out a blitzkrieg, and got bogged down in the March mud of the Ukrainian soil. The sanctions proved to be truly crushing, just as the old President Biden had promised.

And Putin is left alone. This is not like Iranian Ayatollah regime was established by a popular religious revolution (like the Bolshevik regime was created in Russia in 1917-22). This is not like in North Korea where a popular anti-colonial war also developed into a despotism. Russia has been having a dull, unprincipled kleptocracy for thirty years, taking over from Bolshevism the people it crushed.

Putin has nullified the kleptocracy, he could no longer be its leader, he has disgraced himself in front of the whole world, and became a dangerous war criminal with the symptoms of a maniac for humanity. He will be surrendered in the next few days. It will be up to the new leader to restore the "beautiful life" of the pyramid, relationships with the West, get accounts in foreign banks unblocked, and have their assets free from the sequester. It should be a person who is not tainted by the current crimes, ideally who loudly condemns them, but the one who comes from their milieu and which they can come to agreement with.

That is why there will be neither new Stalinism, nor the Iranian or North Korean way. The mass in Russia is speechless and there will be no people's revolution. But there will be (and very, very soon) the intra-elite coup at the very top like the removal of N. Khrushchev in 1964 or the death of Emperor Paul on March 11, 1801, or a strange death of J. Stalin in March 1953. But for the sake of restoring relationships with the West, with the support of the middle, active layer, with its moral support, with the restoration of democracy and civil liberties.
And we can expect this happen in the next few days, a lot of them in the next few weeks.

I remain an optimist, gentlemen.


P.S. Dear Reader! I am very much interested in your opinion on the subject of this article. Please, write a comment or ask a question if you want to clarify something.
Igor Chykalov
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