A bloodless coup off a bloody conflict
Putin may be on his way out as the world rides the razor’s edge of all out war
“The world you are being commissioned into has the potential for a significant international conflict between great powers. And that potential is increasing, not decreasing,” said General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in his commencement address to the graduating cadets of West Point.
Milley, for once, is right.
With China learning from Russia’s military errors and failures in Ukraine and adjusting their own military doctrine accordingly as they openly saber-rattle over Taiwan, and Russia itself staying in-it-to-win-it in their worst military campaign since the Russo-Japanese War—a short-term bonus for NATO in terms of degrading Russian forces, but with the rising danger that as the Kremlin grows more desperate, it could choose to employ nuclear weapons, and that’s without a direct conflict with the West—it seems the great powers have flipped off their safeties, fingers on the trigger, ready to go weapons free.
Meantime, the former chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (a.k.a. MI6), Sir Richard Dearlove, writing in the Daily Mail, predicts that Putin will be put out to pasture by 2023, as speculation mounts that the Russian president is suffering from thyroid cancer or Parkinson’s or both. Sir Richard believes that the invisible powers-that-be, whoever they may be among the siloviki, the securocrats who make up Putin’s posse, will quietly arrange to admit their leader, in true Soviet tradition, to a sanitarium, where he may or may not recover, but definitely never return to the Kremlin as president. This would preclude a more violent type of transition that would risk plunging Russia into a civil war—with thousands of nuclear warheads up for grabs. A good thing, if that’s how it plays out, as it did with Yuri Andropov, one of Putin’s KGB idols, when he took ill. And Chernenko after him.
Problem is, as with all the geriatric Soviet leaders before Gorbachev, there is no clear succession plan in place, no “Gray Cardinal”—or single true power floating and fluttering behind the curtain—as Putin once was to an ailing and inebriated Boris Yeltsin—to take over in his place, which is why Sir Richard believes it will be Secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushchev, one of Putin’s pet favorites, who will likely succeed him. But be careful what you wish for, because Patrushchev is no pushover, and perhaps would prove himself even more adaptable and adept in the role of president without abandoning Russia’s ambitions or its attempts to undermine NATO and the United States, which means things could get even worse before they get better, however you define what that means exactly—whether a deep-freeze Cold War or a full-throttle collision course sparking all-out conflict.
Alex Holstein is the co-author of Warfighter: The Story of an American Fighting Man, due out May 25, 2022, from Lyons Press, and available for pre-order NOW at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He holds an MSc in Russian and Post-Soviet Studies from the London School of Economics, where he wrote his thesis on the Soviet KGB.