We’re not predicting. It is possible to give some shape to the future. The mainstream media studiously ignores the chemo tracks on Putin’s hand, and other obvious medical issues. These are key to 2023, far more deterministic in effect than anything else, save the Ukrainian ability to fruitfully stymie the Russian military. See Putin Disappears; Illness a Factor?
Here in the U.S., we’ve had recent exposure to the authoritarian mindset, of both the leader and the follower. This is a quasi-personal relationship. When the leader suffers political eclipse, his loyalties are not transferable. The obedient masses become the querulous masses.
So it is in Russia. Putin’s popularity results from deep authoritarian tradition. Stalin said, “What can I do? The people want a czar.” When Stalin died, executions followed, not on the scale of the purges, but as a political part of the succession process. We see this now, an accelerated rate of extrajudicial executions, as hardliners attempt to “shape the battlefield” for the succession struggle.
The hardliners authored Putin’s expansionist ideology; he didn’t do it himself. He represents both an asset and a hindrance:
- Putin is the irreplaceable conduit to the masses.
- Compared to some of the hardliners, such as Aleksandr Dugin, who espouse out-and-out extermination of Ukrainians, Putin is a moderate.
Thus far, the logic is a clockwork. Now we come to the first question:
- As Putin weakens, will he acquiesce to the hardliners, removing the tension?
- When physical, and possibly mental incompetence becomes manifest, will the hardliners visibly depose Putin?
- Valuing his conduit, will they keep him as a figurehead as long as he can be made presentable?
The clockwork resumes; the murky interregnum is followed by Putin’s absolute disappearance. His legacy becomes subject to interpretation and appropriation. In life there have been at least three Putins:
- Creator of wealth and provider of welfare.
- Author of a nationalist cultural ethos orbiting the dark double stars of Spartan militarism and religion. See Russia, the new Sparta; Putin, Lycurgus & Oswald Spengler.
- Warmonger and destroyer of wealth.
The factions that emerge will be free to edit Putin’s image. The universal question will be “How did we become so poor?” The hardliners will be blamed for massive destruction of wealth. And they will have no good answer, because they don’t know how to run a country. Many of those who do have already fled Russia.
Pretenders to the throne will have a hard time acquiring legitimacy from Russians who miss their czar. In other countries, the military have often stepped in. In Russia, there are few visible candidates untainted by debacle. Surovikin is a possible exception. Prigozhin is an alleged ally, which may be a highly temporary arrangement. Or, as suggested in Power Transition in Russia? Revolution? Part 1, colonels could revolt. See also Power Transition in Russia? Revolution? Part 2.
The effect on the Russian military will be profound. In the event of an unseemly succession of Prigozhin, some officers may recant their oaths. The military may in fact crumble. The blood lust between factions, with practiced lethality, will be huge. In this environment, it is natural for Russians, cultural heirs to the Purges, for the sake of survival, to mask their thoughts.
Will a “Party of Wealth” vanquish the “War Faction”, so adroit at political murder? This cannot be assured in the first round. But Russia will always have the capacity for rebirth as a civilized nation, as celebrated by Igor Stravinsky.