Many analysts in Russia and the West are now openly talking about how the regime of Vladimir Putin could come to an end, making predictions that in many cases appear to be more an expression of their preferences than of the actual prospects of any one of them coming true.
Igor Eidman, a Russian commentator for Deutsche Welle, suggests that only one of the five predictions now on offer, all based on analogies with events in Russian or European history, has much of a chance of coming true if one examines all of them with any care history.
The first prediction about the end of the Putin era is what he calls “the ‘bunker’ scenario” in which Putin is destroyed as Hitler was by “complete international isolation.” However, the West doesn’t seem prepared for such an “uncompromising” stand, and even Putin isn’t “inadequate” enough to launch a suicidal global war.
The second set of predictions involves Putin being pushed aside or even killed by a palace coup, much as Paul I was, Eidman says. But that is unlikely: the Kremlin leader has had the time to select only those most loyal to his person to be in top jobs, and he has made sure that all the members of the elite know that their positions would be at risk if he were overthrown.
The third is perhaps the most hopeful and most unrealistic, involving as it does the notion that Putin and his siloviki will launch a new perestroika and bring reforms. He and they hate that idea more than anything else and they know that their system, like the Soviet one, would “inevitably collapse” if it reformed to the point of not relying on violence.
The fourth prediction, popular now among some Russian political emigres, is that Putin will ultimately “be forced” to take part in a roundtable with the opposition much as Marshal Jaruzelski was in Poland. But who in the Putin regime would sit down as an equal with Navalny or fail to remember that Jaruzelski was simply a half-way house to regime collapse?
And the fifth prediction, the only one that has much chance, Eidman suggests, is a popular explosion along the lines of February 1917. There is growing social discontent and anger about both rising income inequality and the increasingly hereditary nature of power and property in Putin’s Russia.
At some point “as was the case in 1917,” popular discontent will break out and some in the elite will decide that they can’t suppress the demonstrators and that their best chance for survival is to join them. When and how this might happen is far from clear, but the chances that it could are at least in evidence.
And this has one positive consequence, Eidman says. “Under certain circumstances,” a popular revolution in Russia could but not necessarily would set “the country on the European democratic path.” Whether that would be subverted as the February 1917 revolution was, of course, remains to be seen.
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