Back when Donald Trump was still occupying the office of President of the United States, and his corrupt connections to Vladimir Putin kept emerging, there was at least some theoretical danger that Trump’s downfall could take Putin down with him. But even though Trump was ousted in disgrace and is now in the process of losing everything, Putin managed to survive his own failed Trump experiment.
Even with Putin’s puppet Trump now fully neutered, most of us were still expecting a weakened Putin to remain in control of Russia indefinitely. After all, it’s usually others who have paid the price for Putin’s failures. But that’s because Putin’s gambles over the years have been calculated to make sure that even if they failed, the consequences wouldn’t be catastrophic for him. This is a guy with nine evil lives who’s used them up very carefully.
That’s what makes it so remarkable that we’re now looking at the realistic possibility of Putin being ousted from power and perhaps even made to disappear in the process. That’s because Putin has, for whatever still-unknown reasons, decided to bet everything on a Ukraine invasion that was far from a sure thing.
This is the kind of unwise bet that a stable villain only tends to take if he’s reached a point of desperation where he fears he’s about to be ousted anyway, or if he’s learned he’s dying and wants to go out with a bang, or if he’s lost his mind to the point that he can’t even rely on his own evil pragmatism any longer.
It’s a tricky game to try to figure out what’s going on in Putin’s mind at this point, which in addition to having always been evil, now seems to be incoherently evil. But of all the people who are surprised by what’s transpired over the past week, Putin himself surely has to be the most surprised of all.
Putin’s allies such as Hungary and Kazakhstan are now refusing to help him. China, which initially appeared interested in siding with Putin and using his antics as cover for its own antics, now seems to be betting on his failure. And the European Union, some of which relies fairly heavily on Russian energy exports, has carried out the history-making move of removing multiple Russian banks from the SWIFT banking system. Not only that, support for Ukraine has suddenly become a rallying cry around the world, in a way that never did materialize back when Putin was having Trump try to sabotage Ukraine’s government from within.
Putin couldn’t have possibly seen all of this coming, right? Perhaps he was expecting a certain round of trade sanctions, budgeted for it, and thought that would be that. But how could Putin not have seen this kind of pushback coming? Comparisons to Hitler in general are essentially always over the top. But when you launch an unprovoked military invasion into a sovereign European country, it’s difficult to think of any comparisons but Hitler. Putin has done perhaps the one thing that could have evoked this quick of and fierce of a worldwide response.
There are far too many variables at play to try to predict precisely how this will all unfold from here. But we do know that Russia’s economy is now headed for full scale collapse. How long will that take? Tough to say, given that nothing like this has been tried on this scale before. But we do know that the Russian oligarchs will have a very difficult time swallowing what’s about to happen to them. They love their money and their international glamor life, and now they’ve begun losing both.
There has always been one hypothetical that could lead to Putin’s downfall and outright ouster, and that’s the scenario where the Russian oligarchs collectively decide he needs to go. It’s just that most of us never expected that hypothetical to happen, because Putin never seemed dumb enough to get himself that severely on the oligarchs’ bad side.
Yet here we are, suddenly facing the very real possibility of the end of Vladimir Putin. Will it happen? When will it happen? Again, there are still too many variables to answer those questions. But the specter of Putin’s downfall is no longer just a hypothetical. It’s a very real scenario playing out right in front of us.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report