Putin dies. What does that do for the war with Ukraine?

I’ve seen several articles claiming that Putin is in poor health and even one that alleges he is being treated for cancer.

So, assuming he kicks off this year (couldn’t happen to a nicer guy), what happens with the Ukraine initiative? How supportive of the effort has his cabinet been?

Do you think they’ll start pulling out? Or will they carry on citing the sunken cost fallacy. Is there any realistic way to impose reparations on Russia? I’ve read that sanctions have been effective in imposing hardship on the country, but I’m sure that’s affecting the general populous far more than leadership.

It depends on who take overs. Personally, I don’t see someone taking over and announcing a total withdrawal from Ukraine. Perhaps negotiations would start in earnest with Russia bargaining to maintain control of Crimea.

Russian machismo and irrational arrogance is a big factor here, and the great thing about Putin being dead (aside from the fact that he’s dead) is that it allows a face-saving path for Russia to negotiate. They can blame Putin for whatever, get out of the huge hole they have dug for themselves, and go back to pretending how great they are.

Yep. Russia has a long history of using dead former leaders as scapegoats in order to pivot away from sins of the past.

Well, maybe. The problem is that Putin has pretty much cleared the ranks of potential successors for anyone who would a) challenge him, b) take a more internationalist tack, or c) have the perspicuity to recognize that the dramatic demographic downslope of the Russian population and the coming instability of oil & gas economies in a post-globalization world requires a massive restructuring of the Russian economy from a petrostate (and an industrial producer of cut rate military weapons and virtually nothing else) to a largely self-sufficient economy. Russians leadership, in general, tend to be very conservative and when leaders have tried to make radical changes it has resulted in what can charitably be described as adverse effects.

I know there is a contingent of people who believe that if Putin suddenly keels over or goes ‘into retirement’ that the Russian people will elect a reasonable and democratically-oriented leader but even assuming that public opinion somehow guides the selection of new political leadership the reality is that the Russian public as a whole prefers a ‘strong’ leader to a ‘just’ one, and that corruption is just an accepted way of life from time immemorial. Whomever takes over from Putin is likely to be just as bad if not worse, and will almost certainly not be willing to give up ground and be seen as weak. Pre-invasion that could have must meant holding onto the Crimea and making noise and smoke about the supporting self-determination for the Donetsk and Luhansk i.e. maintain the status quo, but now that the new normal is the “special military operation” a successor would have to demonstrate some kind of victory from what has been a large catastrophically disastrous adventure for the Russian Army, and voluntarily giving up ground without getting anything in return will just look weak.


I agree - just as with Trump, the real problem is not the leader, it’s the fact that so many people support him.

But at least the new leader’s personal reputation and legacy is not irrevocably tied specifically to the disaster in the Ukraine. Putin simply cannot back off. A new leader has more flexibility to accept reality without losing face.

Based on history, the invading armies will pull back so that they can choose a new leader.

I was thinking something along these lines. Even if the troops themselves don’t actively seek a role in determining the new leader, the people vying for the leadership will see having the troops on their side as a good thing. So they might declare victory in Ukraine, and call back as many of the troops as will follow them, to be used in conflicts with their rivals for the Kremlin.

A nice little civil war could be just what they need.

Autocratic Russian leaders have even less care for their “troops” than Western democracies and will throw young (and middle aged) men into the grinder without hesitation until they literally run out of meat. “A little civil war” is rarely a good thing and especially in a nation with the second largest nuclear arsenal on the planet.

People in the West seem to have this idea of Russia as a European-ish country that has just shied a bit away from democracy and in which the budgetniki will rise up given the right opportunity and incentives. In fact, Russia has never had a true democracy at any time in its long history, public corruption is an accepted way of life (and Gorbachev’s campaign against it is a large measure of what brought him down), and the Russian public clearly favors a strong leader over a ‘fair’ one, which is why until recently Putin had a generally good reputation and high domestic polling, even among media outlets that were prone to challenge him. Putin has exactly the kind of performative ‘strength’ that the population likes, and lest we be too critical one can make a similar observation of that tendency of late in many Western democracies.


I would phrase that as my dad did: ‘It couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.’

I think this is key.
Short - medium term, the world can see now that shitty old Russian military gear is not particularly useful in a modern conflict.
Longer term, the world is going to move away from petro-energy, and even before that, recent experience in Europe shows that countries do not have to rely on Russia for energy.

Any potential leader in Russia that does not recognize this reality is going to fail - if not sooner, then later.

I think internal chaos is very likely for Russia, as a starting assumption. As noted, Putin has been very careful to cleanse the lower ranks of anyone who could threaten his hold on power, which has the knock-on effect of leaving no clear successor. (I think Medvedev wants to be seen as such, given that he’s been making more media noise lately, but no one sees him as anything but a stooge.)

Dictatorships need a means of passing power, or they fall apart. In NK, the Kims have been very clear about passing the baton, which has stabilized the generational regime. But the current lack of an heir is, internally, a source of anxiety. If anything unexpected happens to Jong-un, the survivors are likely to tear each other apart.

Russia has had succession crises before. Putin’s death will trigger a big one, I think.

What this means for Ukraine is impossible to predict. Could result in withdrawal as soldiers are needed to fight a civil war. Or could result in a protracted stalemate if Russian forces dig in — no advance, but no retreat either — to await the outcome of purely political jockeying in the Kremlin. Anything is possible.

It’s not so much that Russian military hardware is “not particularly useful” against modern defenses (a conclusion that was pretty clear from the 1990-91 Gulf War and even moreso from the more recent scuffle) as that the Russians can’t even produce the hardware at scale. Post-Soviet Russia has long been buoyed by selling off surplus Soviet-era hardware and providing maintenance and spares, and by all evidence they’ve let their military industries lay fallow even as they’ve developed some impressive prototypes and concepts. They just can’t build their way back into solvency, and don’t have either the expertise or resources to build up a new military production infrastructure from what little they have left.

Well, sort of. I’m less than optimistic about how quickly the developed world will move away from fossil fuels and to renewables until they absolutely have to, and of course the developing world is exploiting the hell out of their petroleum and gas resources (or leasing them to developed nations) because why the hell not if the alternative is being left behind and exploited. The problem with Russia is that while they have abundant reserves of coal, gas, and oil, they don’t have a good infrastructure to extract, refine, and transport them, and the sabotage of the Nordstream pipelines has only exacerbated this. Even China, which essentially has Russia over a barrel as one of the few large nations that will still deal regardless of NATO sanctions, is limiting its dependence on Russian gas and oil because there just isn’t a good way to get it from Russia to China with high security and reliability.

For Russia, the problem is essentially that they don’t have the cash to invest in the necessary infrastructure and even if they do the West can strategically undermine them by fracking and advanced gas extraction far cheaper than what Russia can profitably sell. It was the floor dropping out of the petroleum market that was one of the key factors in the economic failure of the Soviet Union (which was selling raw petroleum on the market at a discount just to get hard currency for imports) and they face the same problem again because they’ve never diversified their economy or created a truly self-sustaining industrial system. The Soviet Union was highly dependent upon the Warsaw Pact nations for a lot of manufactured goods, foodstuffs, and technology, and just flatlined once the East Bloc fractured.

Agreed. Anybody claiming to have a crystal ball about the future of Russia in Ukraine is either delusional or trying to sell you something. I think any prospective leader is going to be unwilling to unilaterally withdraw from the Donbas (and certainly Crimea), and as much as people have been predicting that the Russian military was in imminent collapse since the first couple of weeks of the invasion of Ukraine, it just hasn’t happened even though the Russian Army is pointing a howitzer at its collective foot and firing repeatedly. At some point it just has to collapse when they can’t even deliver munitions and the troops can’t raid enough food to stave off starvation, but so far they’re delivering bombs and ammo in school buses and bread vans with no sign that they’re close to giving up. The Russian economy was tits up even before this ill-advised military adventure and is being sustained now largely on stockpiles and inertia, so what happens when everything runs dry and the larder is bare is anyones’ guess but it probably isn’t good, and certainly isn’t going to encourage cautious reflection on the poor leadership choices that led Russia to this place when the small concentration of people holding actual power are considering who should be the next leader.



If Russia was the only side in the conflict using old Soviet military gear or evolutions of it, that would be a logical conclusion, but it isn’t just Russia using Soviet era gear. Both sides are. Before the war almost every bit of military gear Ukraine possessed was leftovers from the USSR or domestic post-Cold War evolutions of it, the same as Russia. A very, very large part of the aid from the West to Ukraine, including (at the time of writing and almost a year into the war) all of the tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and aircraft provided by the West are old Warsaw Pact equipment from Eastern European NATO members. Javelins and NLAWs got all of the press as they were very visible signs of Western support for Ukraine, but Ukraine’s domestically produced evolution of the Soviet-era AT-14 ATGM, the Stugna-P is likely responsible for more of Russia’s tank and armored vehicle losses than Javelins and NLAWs.

Is better that falling out window, comrade.

Russian architecture has a curious quality of setting windows low and often facing downward such that it is ridiculously easy to accidentally self-fenestrate. You seem this same pattern of architecture repeated across the Warsaw Pact nations, although after the fall of the Soviet Union most windows outside of Russia were retrofit with safety devices to prevent this and the number of deaths from accidental window excursions decreased precipitously. The Russians, however, clung doggedly to their architectural standards regardless of the hazard they posed.

Also, most Moscovites today refer to each other as “гражданин” (citizen) as God and Putin intended. Nobody wants to be a godless commie in Glorious Modern Russia!


I was just reading in a Churchill biography where (I believe a Yugoslav) official fell out a window after a change in government.

Humor-it is a difficult concept. -Saavik

Maybe not Muscovites, but a lot of the rest of them seem to be OK with it.