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A Desparate Western Strategy: Bleed Russia (by Bleeding Ukraine) and Hope Putin Dies?

The Biden administration is fond of declaring their steadfast support for Ukraine in the NATO-Russia Ukraine war by repeating their PR mantra ‘as long as it takes’. The question is, to paraphrase the Oval Office’s most infamous cigar afficianado: “It depends what your definition of ‘it’ is.” If it means until Russia is defeated on the battlefield, then everything is clear, understandable if unrealistic. But perhaps they mean something else? Perhaps they hope to drag out this war until Putin’s health begins to fail or he dies suddenly, because, it is believed, either development would be likely to set off an internal power struggle that could conceivably destabilize Russia’s political system.

The calculus could be that a prolonged war, with mounting casualties and perhaps intensifying economic problems, could create tension between and within both state and society. The fear of a social upheaval could further polarize differences over tactics and strategy in the war and other issues, such as the degree of economic centralization and social control. Then the hope would be that as tensions reach a higher level, Putin’s health falters. With the system already destabilized under the war stresses, this triggers an all-out power struggle, as competing factions and parties hasten to take advantage of this window of opportunity in order to win power and right the ship of state according to their own agenda. How feasible would such a plan be?

The more feasible version of such a Western-Ukrainian plan would be not to wait passively for Putin to die of old age or related disease but to support Ukrainian efforts to eliminate Putin from the scene. The drone attacks on the Kremlin and other localities in and around Moscow demonstrate that this is possible to achieve and possibly the Ukrainians’ goal. But this is a long-shot scenario.

The longer part of waiting for Putin’s natural demise is no more feasible from a practical point of view and risks Ukraine’s demise occurring well before Putin’s own. Putin will be 71 years old on October 7th. According to Russian amortization data, there is only a 7 percent probability Putin will die in the next 4 years (by 2027), 17 percent by 2031, and 32 percent by 2036 ( Naturally, Putin has and will have access to far better health care than the average Russian. So it is unrealistic to base policy on an assumption of Putin’s physical demise any time in the next thirteen years.

Moreover, the goal of destabilizing Russia has little merit. The policy of destabilizing non-democratic regimes has been stock and trade for Washington and the rest of the West since at least 1991, reflected in the so called ‘democracy-promotion’ and ‘color revolution’ strategy of creating NATO-friendly, prospective member-states. Yet it has produced humanitarian disasters from Afghanistan to the Balkans and, most recently, in Ukraine. Doubling down in already decimated Ukraine seems cruel and unusual reward for an ally. In Russia a color revolution, palace coup, or even a smooth succession of Putin by someone like Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu or Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev’s son, Agriculture Minister Dmitrii Patrushev cannot lead to a liberal regime now. If any one of these scenarios occurred in the wake of Putin’s assassination, it would certainly lead to a harder line regime and greater public determination to pursuit military victory in Ukraine.

Another problem is that the radicalization in the West and Slavic east which this war is generating creates a highly explosive background upon which the various parties’ regimes evolve. Communo-fascism is growing in the West, especially in the US with Western ‘prodemocracy’ ideologists like Francis Fukuyama and Michael McFaul now openly supporting Azov and other Ukrainian neofascist elements. The Biden administration correspondingly is attempting a revolution from above aimed at creating a de facto single-party dominant, soft authoritarian regime. The neofascist influence and single-party rule is also being established in Ukraine, and these trends will strengthen should Ukraine’s failures in the war persist as they likely will. In other words, the West is moving in Russia’s direction when it comes to regime type and in some ways in Ukraine’s direction when ot comes to ideological radicalism, though in Ukraine this comes without the wokisms of radical feminism, homosexualism, and transgenderism. In Russia, with power-brokers observing this environment and Russia having its own share of extremist renegades and rogues, Putin’s removal from the scene could unleash the more radicalism. Think about Putin’s exile of Wagner and the arrest of Igor Girkin-Strelkov, if you do not believe that Putin is a crucial voice of reason certainly in comparison with what will likely become an even more state (not ethnic) nationalist Russia should Putin leave the scene. Putin’s defeat certainly in the scheduled 2024 and even in 2030 presidential elections seems an unlikely prospect for those seeking Russia’s destabilization.

Only the likely several-year, risky scenario of waiting for Putin’s health to decline or completely fail can significantly increase the likelihood of the emergence of a more negotiation-friendly Russian government. But this probability is far-fetched. Putin’s passing is not likely to occur before Ukraine’s own demise, and it might result in the rise of a truly aggressive Russian regime. Nevertheless, one should not be surprised – given Westerners’ recent penchant for unrealistic, wishful thinking regarding Russia for three decades now – if analysts, policy advisors and policymakers in Washington and Brussels might take what they wish for as reality or a possible one. They may hope for Putin’s demise in 4 years or so and seek to drag out the war or create a quagmire for Putin by sustaining a partisan, guerrilla resistance and terrorist campaign after the prospective Russian victory in the conventional conflict. The July NATO summit in Vilnius appeared to set the policy basis for such a strategy. It approved “a new multi-year assistance programme” in order to help Ukraine armed forces make the “transition….to NATO standards” and “rebuild Ukraine’s security and defence sector” (my emphasis) ( Germany’s parliament, for example, has already committed itself to lending military assistance to Kiev going none years forward until 2032, according to the leader of the German Defense Ministry’s Ukraine Situation Center, Gen. Maj. Christian Freuding (

Washington is now full of talk of waging “a long war” against Russia. It may get it, but there is no guarantee of Putin’s demise, political or biological, in the event.










About the Author 

Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, Websites: Russian and Eurasian Politics, and

Dr. Hahn is the author of the new book: Russian Tselostnost’: Wholeness in Russian Thought, Culture, History, and Politics (Europe Books, 2022). He has authored five previous, well-received books: The Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, 2021); Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.

Dr. Hahn taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and was a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group.

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