This former intelligence officer-turned-president took Russia from a defeated Cold War relic to the most feared superpower in Eurasia. Now Vladimir Putin, who many have called a modern-day Adolf Hitler, is dead. The consequences will be dire. Who would replace Putin? Could his death stop the war in Ukraine? And why could this lead to civil war in Russia?
A former KGB agent, Vladimir Putin, likes to project what he considers to be a masculine image. Reports state his obsession with returning Russia to the former glory days of the USSR dominate his mind as he moves forward with this plan. Putin controls Russian television, where 70% of the population receives its news.
His administration is known for censoring information on the internet. Putin even changed the nation’s laws to give himself another two terms as president. That means he could be in power until 2036, when he’ll be 84 years old. His quest for power led him to invade Ukraine, causing the murder of innocent civilians, including children.
This regime has also targeted the biggest nuclear power plant in Europe. So if this apparent dictator-for-life died today, how could his replacement deal with the war in Ukraine? With the Russian despot declared dead, Russia would experience a power vacuum not seen since the death of another Russian terror ruler, Joseph Stalin, in 1953.
Oligarchs and politicians would seek to latch onto whatever they could grab. So who gets first dibs on Putin’s empty seat? Immediately, power would transfer to Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. This interim president would rule for 90 days until the next election. This would be more than enough time for those closest to Putin to consolidate their power.
You see, Putin was Russia’s last elected official. And once in office, he placed his loyal supporters in key positions and destroyed his political enemies. People like opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who ran for office and organized anti-government demonstrations, were thrown in jail. So much for a free and fair election.
Now, without a central figure in charge, the autocrats could start playing out real-life Game of Thrones scenarios as they juggle forces and plan coups against each other. But what does that mean for Russia’s current war in Ukraine? When COVID-19 spread worldwide, Putin’s popularity at home hit new lows. But his invasion of Ukraine has created a nationalistic fever dream, skyrocketing his approval rating to a staggering 69%.
He claimed that Ukraine’s move to join NATO posed a major threat to Russia’s security. Despite this high approval rating and decades of propaganda, 51% of Russians believe the two nations should remain independent. Whoever took the mantle next would have a tough decision on whether to continue pro-Putin policies or start a new chapter in international relations. But this war could bring several other unknown factors into play.
For one, if Putin didn’t handpick a successor before passing, a military official could try to grab power. That might put Russia’s armed forces, chemical weapons and nuclear firepower into even more unstable hands. Without the dictator in charge anymore, keeping a country this size together might be impossible. And that could give the United States and the European Union the chance to crush Russia’s economy.
After Russia attacked Ukraine, the world responded by attacking Putin with economic sanctions. The ruble dropped in value to less than 1 cent. The SWIFT banking system cut off many Russian banks from using their services. That means transactions adding up to trillions of dollars stopped processing. Some airlines won’t even accept Russian nationals aboard their planes. And dozens of countries have already closed their airspace to Russian flights.
Russians are now practically trapped in their own country. They can’t travel to Europe. They can’t buy iPhones. Their savings are dropping every day. And it’s not just the upper class feeling the heat. Over half the Russian population lives on $6,000 or less per year. A falling standard of living and a failing economy could give rise to a new opposition party.
Maybe jailed leader Navalny would be released to lead this new wave with Putin gone. But sanctions and bans wouldn’t just hurt Russia. With so much fuel and oil exported from this country, gas prices would rise to unseen levels. Russia accounts for 30% of all the world’s exports in grains used in cereals. And don’t forget all the gems, iron and precious metals they export.
The world would need to figure out how to keep the supply chain running after cutting off Russia. No matter who took the reigns, the pressure mounting on all sides could be enough to get Russia to pull out of Ukraine. It’s hard to continue a war when you don’t have any money. Even if a figure came along with the presence of Putin to continue his brand of politics, Russia would have to consider embracing the West again instead of facing a world of isolation and ever-increasing poverty.
With Russia backed into a corner, they could be forced to give up territories that once belonged to other countries. Putin’s annexation of Crimea and Donbas could end. And returning these lands to Ukraine could restore pride to the people living in this illegally fractured nation. If those harsh economic policies and sanctions remained in Russia, the conditions on the ground could create unrest that could turn into an all-out rebellion.
Whoever inherits this mess would be in for a long period of rebuilding a tattered society and renewing global trust. Ukrainians could only hope for a new period of peace after the death of Putin and the fall of the Russian economy.
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- “Putin’s Disappearance Raises Questions About Russia’s Future”. Matt Schiavenza. 2015. theatlantic.com.
- “Understanding The Factors That Will Impact The Succession To Vladimir Putin As Russian President”. John Tefft. 2020. rand.org.
- “Russia | Scenarios For Presidential Succession”. 2022. dragonflyintelligence.com.
- “Putin’s war in Ukraine could mean the collapse of Russia”. 2022. aei.org.