Oleksandr Pankieiev (CIUS): Many experts predicted that Russia’s defeat in Kherson would bring an end to Putin’s regime. Kherson was liberated one week ago. Do you think we have crossed that point of no return in Russia’s war against Ukraine, or do we need to watch for other signs?
Alexander Motyl: Well, it seems to me that Putin has already lost. So, it’s important to keep in mind that he’s been defeated, and Russia has been defeated. The war isn’t over yet. But thus far, Russia has lost, as has Putin.
So, my first point would be to emphasize that I have been fairly certain about Putin’s not surviving the war since about March or April. That is not to say I predicted the war; quite the contrary, I did not. But it seemed to me that starting a war would be a disaster for Russia, and I thought that for this reason Putin wouldn’t do it. Well, he did, and it did turn out to be a disaster—a strategic miscalculation on an enormous scale. It would be hard to overestimate the gross idiocy of Putin in starting this kind of war.
And now, with every day, as the occupied territories are progressively being liberated, as discontent within the Russian army grows, as the number of Russian soldiers killed grows, as discontent and opposition even within Russia itself grows, albeit slowly, as increasingly larger numbers of people affiliated with the oligarchs, political or economic, are persuaded that Russia can’t win—as all of these factors are multiplying, as Ukraine is not only resisting but liberating, as the West remains committed to helping Ukraine—Putin’s own position is getting progressively weaker and weaker; his legitimacy is eroding, and his popularity is declining.
Inasmuch as his legitimacy is eroding, so too is the stability of the fascist system he constructed, within which he is the core—the linchpin. So too, that system is becoming progressively weaker, which means that Putin’s weakness will have an impact on the stability of the system. And the fascist system’s progressive weakness will have an impact on the Russian Federation’s stability. Will a systemic crisis happen tomorrow? I don’t know, it could. It’s likely to happen within the next six months to a year, perhaps sooner.
Putin’s departure becomes more and more likely. A year ago, the likelihood of Putin’s departure was tiny. Today it has become significantly larger. But we can’t predict how much larger; there’re just too many imponderables.