How long does Putin have left? Combined with rumours of ill-health, Putin’s disastrous military campaign in Ukraine has led many to question how long he will cling to power. According to the Russian-Latvian independent news platform Meduza, ministers and oligarchs alike are unhappy at the scale of sanctions and the slow and uncertain progress of Putin’s ‘special military operation’. Alongside rumours of secret plans for a post-Putin Russia, elite discontent has already fuelled several high-profile resignations, including Boris Bondarev, Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations, and Valentin Yumashev, Boris Yeltsin’s son-in-law. The ship is beginning to sink, and the rats are beginning to swim.
Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, recently predicted Putin will go by the end of 2023 – albeit into a sanatorium. According to him, a removal on medical grounds could allow the Russian establishment to move Putin on without staging a coup. In turn, he speculated, this could pave the way for his replacement by Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Security Council of Russia and a long-time KGB associate of the Russian president. Other horses in this lethal race could include Putin’s former bodyguard and governor of the Tula region, Alexei Dyumin, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, though Shoigu’s chances are now slim on account of Russia’s military reverses in Ukraine.
If, on the other hand, Russia’s elites manage to avoid replacing Putin with another strongman, they could choose technocratic figures like current Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobynanin, or even ex-president Dmitri Medvedev, whose relative weakness could prove attractive to those wishing to manipulate affairs from behind the scenes.
Alternatively, Russia’s security service, the FSB, could engineer a coup and install a hawk to conduct the war in Ukraine more effectively. This could well lead to the use of tactical nuclear weapons, Dr Rod Thornton of King’s College London warned: ‘They’ll want to send a message in line with the Russian doctrine of Udar, which means ‘massive shock’ in Russian.’