What if Putin loses?

Will Putin go the way of Tsar Nicholas? If this war becomes a drag, or a loss of face, will that finally be Putin’s end? Will he be eclipsed by an up and coming talent within United Russia or will United Russia finally be eclipsed?

 Russia doesn’t mind dictators, but it likes its leaders to be competent. For over 2 decades Putin was the personification of that. He rose to become president through a successful war. Once in power, he rebuilt the economy however and he mostly had peaceful relations with his neighbours for his first 2 (highly successful) terms as president. He then willingly became prime minister at the height of his powers. He successfully led a short war against Georgia as prime minister but then it seems he didn’t trust his new president too much and Russia faced some economic stagnation. Once back as president, Putin gradually shifted from being a hybrid regime leader to an outright dictator. The 2011 parliamentary elections were the first time United Russia’s (still diminished) victory was highly disputed and resulted in protests. Putin’s return tot he presidency in the 2012 elections (also diminished compared to his success in 2004) was likewise disputed. Putin embraced strong anti-Western and anti-homosexual stances that have since become popular across Eastern Europe.

The conflict regarding Crimea in 2014 forever changed his relationship with the West but it actually increased support for Putin amongst opposition parties including the still rather popular neo-communists.

This war however has been criticised by the communists and immediately resulted in mass protests and arrests. Putin has resorted more frequently to censorship recently and election fraud has become more blatant as support for United Russia has decreased. He has less unified support and is facing far more international condemnation. This war needs to be a huge propaganda victory. It needs to seem worth the cost in manpower and the international condemnation. Maybe it will be, but considering the protests faced by Putin’s authoritarian ally neighbours, he needs to keep his popular support strong. He has dug in when it comes to an anti-Western stance, but if the popular communists are opposing him now, he needs to rally the people more.

Putin doesn’t seem to have a clear successor he trusts, nor does Lukashenko. How long does he plan to stay in charge? Till he dies? Are there any factions plotting in the shadows waiting for a moment of weakness? If this war does go badly for Putin, will his own party turn against him and threaten with impeachment? Or can we expect a swift deep-state coup?

Maybe we’ll never know if everything goes as Putin has planned, at least not until he’s near death.

Ramon Giralt

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