Are Putin's Days Numbered?

Monday, March 28, 2022

Ahead of the weekend, reader Snedcat pointed me to an analysis in the Moscow Times of the political situation in Russia. Here is its central point, building from an explanation of the stratified nature of Russian society and the fact that Putin's actions may be alienating the oligarchs he'd been plying with loot:

Roman Abramovich, oligarch and, until recently, owner of Chelsea FC. (Image by Amir Hosseini, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)
Putin stands alone. This is not Iran, where the Ayatollah regime was established as a result of a popular religious revolution (like the Bolshevik regime in Russia in 1917-22).And it's not North Korea, where a popular anti-colonial war turned into despotism. Russia has had thirty years of boring, idea-less kleptocracy.

Putin cancelled the kleptocracy. He can no longer be its leader, he has disgraced himself before the whole world, which considers him a dangerous war criminal with signs of mental illness. They will hand him over in the near future. It will be up to the new leader to restore the "beautiful life" of the pyramid, restore relations with the West, get accounts in foreign banks unblocked, and have their assets released. The best person to do this is someone not tainted by the current crimes, in fact ideally someone who has loudly denounced them, but who comes from their milieu, a person who can make a deal with them. [bold added]
On the one hand, unlike a conspiracy-sounding story claiming that a specific individual was getting ready to stage a coup, this one has a plausible logic to it: Putin, like a rich schoolboy who'd been buying friends, may well be about to learn how many real ones he bought. And Putin lacks the moral legitimacy (real or perceived by his public) necessary to retain power, in part because he never had it. What's not to like?

Mainly, I think the author is correct that the people in the lowest stratum of Russia's society probably support the war (albeit tepidly) for the reasons given and are unlikely to revolt against Putin anytime soon.

That places the whole burden of a coup on the kleptocracy -- who have supported Putin for decades, whose assets have often been seized by Western authorities, and at least some of whom have returned to Russia, I would guess to avoid imprisonment. Anyone there now faces imprisonment1 for being caught opposing Putin. Anyone not there will probably have a hard time doing anything about Putin for different reasons.

The author credits many of these people with wanting to save their own skins enough to eject Putin, but theirs is a mindset I don't pretend to understand. And the thing I dislike the most about hoping that a criminal enterprise like the oligarchy has enough sense to do this is ... the fact that they are criminals.

News stories about stupid criminals abound, and Putin himself should be included among them. Not long before he invaded, I believe there were pundits pooh-poohing the whole idea that he'd actually invade because it was a stupid move. They were correct only about the latter.

I am less confident than the writer. Sure, Putin might fall because he surrounded himself with slightly less-dumb criminals. Or Russia might collapse like a house of cards after decades of internal corrosion due to corruption. But I will remain very uneasy about such prospects unless they unfold and until they do so enough to look real and unthreatening.

These are not rational men, so there's no calculus I trust to predict with any certainty what they will do.

-- CAV

1. I guess I should have added "or worse." The very oligarch pictured above was poisoned earlier this month. (back)


: (1) Corrected a typo. (2) Added a footnote regarding the poisoning of Roman Abramovich.

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