OWhether we admit it or not, regime change in Moscow – that is, the overthrow of Vladimir Putin – must be the ultimate goal of Western democracies as they help thwart his conquest of Ukraine. . Chasing imperial fantasies, a czar-like Putin has gone too far this time. Now he has to go. Urgency required: a new Russian revolution to overthrow the tyrant, directed from within and assisted from without.
The idea that Putin will remain in power, even if a Ukrainian settlement is eventually reconstituted, is both impractical and obscene. By his inhumane actions, the Russian dictator has exonerated himself. He is a threat to universal order, an affront to common decency. We simply cannot trust him.
Despite resounding international condemnation, the detrimental impact of Western sanctions on the Russian people, the resulting threat to the world’s food and energy supply, and daily evidence that his misguided armed forces are in deep trouble, Putin seems determined to keep fighting, if not step up. Last week’s disappointing NATO summit did little to deter it.
US President Joe Biden warns this indiscriminate fanaticism could result in a life-and-death struggle, leading to Russian use of chemicals, biologicals or even on the battlefield nuclear weapons. The Kremlin does not exclude it. Such crude blackmail is not the basis of any healthy relationship.
Washington has now formally accused Russia of war crimes, for which Putin bears command responsibility, and pledged to bring him to justice. The highest UN court ordered him to stop. Biden considers him a “war criminal” and a “pure thug”. Who in his heart honestly disagrees? Even his Chinese buddies look askance.
As long as he remains in power, Putin will pose a potentially existential threat to the security of Europe and the rest of the world. His disregard for human life, rights, international law and the UN charter disqualifies him from any future leadership role. Because who can doubt that the war in Ukraine would stop if he were dethroned? There will be no peace as long as Putin is here. He is unfit. He’s an outlaw. He is a second Bashar al-Assad. He must fall.
Logically, practically, and morally speaking, the United States and its allies have no alternative but to actively seek its overthrow. They cannot intervene directly in Russia. But they can and must make Russian elites and the general public realize that Putin is a handicap, a dead weight and a danger, mainly to them – and that the West will support them if they act against him. People often say revolution will never happen. But they said that about Nicolae Ceaușescu, Erich Honecker, Hosni Mubarak, Ferdinand Marcos, Anastasio Somoza, the Shah of Iran – and Tsar Nicholas II. So maybe they are wrong about Putin too.
There is good reason to believe that all those billionaire oligarchs, state industry bosses, flattering Duma politicians, braided generals and Oblomov-type bureaucrats who did well under Putin now have second thoughts as sanctions bite, asset freezes, foreign travel stops, homes and yachts are seized and the ruble plummets.
Its ruling class has a lot to lose as Russia slides into recession and isolation – and it shows. Bypassed Kremlin insiders and The ghosts of the FSB would seethe with anger. Putin’s clumsy defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, and the army chief of staff have disappeared. A senior envoy, Anatoly Chubais, jumped ship last week. Meanwhile, Ukraine reports 1917-style desertions by demoralized front-line troops from Russia.
As for the long-suffering and very bewildered Russian people, no amount of regime propaganda can hide their new daily reality of food queues, rising prices, medical shortages and closed banks. Thousands demonstrated against the invasion, defying police brutality. Thousands of other young professionals – Russia’s future – go abroad paranoid Putin rails against treacherous ‘fifth column’.
The longer the war, the greater the casualties and costs, the more public anger can be directed at Putin. The West should increase the pressure and facilitate its demolition through tougher and deeper sanctions (including, above all, on energy exports), offensive military aid to Kyiv, and more outreach and dissemination. information campaigns on social networks inside Russia.
Any future leader seems most likely to come from the Kremlin apparatus. A transitional figure could emerge much like Putin himself in the final days of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency. At the other end of the opposition spectrum, the ever-provocative Alexei Navalny is a powerful rallying force.
Putin’s overthrow may prove to be a long-term aspiration or could happen very quickly. Historically, change in Russia often happens abruptly. The hope would be for further development towards free and democratic elections. Yet what happens ultimately depends on the Russians themselves.
To maximize the chances of success, Western powers should consider all overt and covert methods to encourage new leaders, including political inducements, security guarantees, and perhaps even a “payback” system for repentant oligarchs. If appeals to principle don’t work, appeals to self-interest can.
EU and NATO members must also agree that Putin is never someone they can do business with again. Let’s hope France and Germany get the message. Liz Truss, British Foreign Secretary, is worried they can let Putin off the hook by offering a revised Minsk-style compromise over the heads of the Ukrainians, similar to their failed initiative in Crimea.
Meanwhile, backward, indecisive and ostensibly pro-Western governments in Israel, India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates who refuse to sanction Russia, must be firmly reminded who their true friends are – and how their interests are best served.
It’s not by sucking off a war criminal. It is not by rationalizing or minimizing an unprovoked war of aggression against a sovereign democracy. It is by doing everything they can to help the Russians and their Western friends end Putin’s murderous rule. As the Bolshevik revolutionaries once cried out, the Russian people must again cry out: “Peace! Earth! Bread!”