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Putinism Is Bigger than Putin

Updated: Jul 24, 2022

Following the "Post-Putin Russia" simulation, Wikistrat interviewed Russia expert Daivis Petraitis to discuss the potential implications in the case of Putin’s death on Russia’s foreign and domestic policy. According to Petraitis, Putinism is bigger than Putin — it is now a supra-institution of its own consisting of security forces, paramilitary groups, intelligence services, and oligarchs. Therefore, Putin’s death will likely not lead to widespread instability in Russia.

Daivis Petraitis is a retired military information analyst, now working as an independent researcher on Russia.

How could Putin's death impact Russia's decision to continue the war in Ukraine? And in general, on Russia's foreign policy?

My long-time work with Russia allows me to believe that we have not an authoritarian rule (Putin’s rule), but a supra-institution-led totalitarianism. And this supra-institution is a huge conglomerate of different military, paramilitary, secret services, etc. institutions. Another thing to bear in mind is the fact of the Russian military being a different type of military compared to Western military organizations. Based on what I see and know, the Russian military was not excited to start that war with the military reform not finalized, but they lost the arguments in the Security Council meeting on 18 January and had to follow the decision and go to the war. With Putin dead, the newly appointed leader would face a reality of those losses and most probably would listen to the military advice and try to terminate the war so the military reform could be finished faster. It could lead to some retreat, but Donbas, Crimea, and the corridor to it would stay in Russian hands. Russian policy remains unchanged until it gets Ukraine as neutral. With this achieved, Russian foreign policy would be warmer and oriented to ease today's tensions at least until the military reform is finished.

In case Putin is replaced after his death by a more hawkish leader, what impact will it have on Russia's relations with the West? And with China?

If Putin is replaced by a more hawkish leader, Russia will activate its sleeper agents; fifth, sixth, and seventh columns in the West. Russian "useful idiots" would do things which, despite their anti-Russian rhetoric, would be more useful to Russia than to their own nations and joint Western interests. In China's direction — for Russia — the most important thing would be to encourage China to behave more aggressively in the South China Sea and in the Pacific. With the common political elite sensing the West confronting Russia with Ukraine deliberately, the hawkish leader most probably would try to pay the same coin to the USA, to get it involved into a conflict in the Pacific.

In a post Putin scenario, if the war in Ukraine concludes with Russia withdrawing peacefully from Ukraine as part of a peace agreement (but maintaining control over Crimea), how would that impact its relations with China?

Mission impossible. Russia could agree and leave parts of occupied territories, but Donbas, the corridor to Crimea and Crimea is lost at least for the foreseeable future. Still, if what you suggest happens, this would mean Russia "losing face" in the eyes of China and even losing its desirable status of “oldest sister" and becoming "youngest brother." This even could mean the end of an official partnership between Russia and China.

In case Russia ``loses the war" and is forced to withdraw from Ukraine (an Afghani scenario), how could that impact its domestic political situation?

Mission impossible. This would mean strong internal conflict among Russian elites, but today I see no part of this elite which could be ready to become that opposition. And I am afraid today's indoctrinated nation would not allow this to happen. Here we have a similarity between Hitler’s Germany of 1944 and "total war," and today's quasi-imperial and patriotic nation. We face a result of two decades of indoctrination in Russia. We need another Kissinger to find and offer a genius solution similar to what he did with China and Taiwan.

Could Putin's death lead to internal instability and potential civil unrest? How could such a situation impact its relations with the West? China?

I am afraid today Putin’s death would not be enough to get Russia into internal instability. The solution (and substitution) would be found quickly and with little blood. Even at Yeltsin's time, internal fighting was short. Today it would be even shorter. And the policies towards the West and China most probably will experience only small corrections directed to improve the relations with Ukraine and the West and maintain relations with China.

Anything you think is worth adding about the potential implications that Putin's death might have on Russia's Foreign Policy?

I think that Putin's death now is not favorable to the West. He is bad, it is obvious, but his plans and wishes are quite clear and obvious. They are dangerous to the West in the long run but we still have time to react. If he dies, in the recent situation he might be replaced by someone who would be not necessarily more hawkish, but more cunning and decisive. The war in Ukraine has already shown that the West is not able (or willing) even to provide enough necessary weaponry to Ukraine to continue the war, not to mention the victory and liberation of all that was lost. And it has shown that Russia has plenty of old stuff and could easily burn it down in the attrition war in Ukraine. In the recent situation, the best thing for the West to do is to convince Ukraine to sacrifice minimum and get maximum. And later to make it strong, but not too much.

In June 2022, Wikistrat ran an interactive simulation exploring the various implications that post-Putin Russia would have for both the country and its foreign policy. To learn more about it, click here.

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