Saturday, November 05, 2022

How does this movie end?

For its weekend edition, the Wall Street Journal has teed up ten pundits to address the question, What happens when Putin goes? (That he will go, sooner or later, one way or another, is a dead certainty for Vladimir Putin, as it is for all of us.) The pundits range from Gary Kasporov, once a chess champion and more recently a busy commentator on things Russian, to Professors John Mearsheimer and Steven Kotkin of Princeton and the University of Chicago. All are interesting and all are worth reading, if only for the wide array of possibilities they envision for Russia and by extension for us.

Reading them, I came up with yet an eleventh possibility: Putin goes, whether by coup or medical misadventure. Russia then falls into chaos, and the movie ends with its becoming a satellite of China. Xi is the younger man by just one year, but he is in a much stronger position, and his tacit support of Putin’s disastrous assault on Ukraine makes a great deal of sense if the result is a strengthened NATO and a diminished Russia. With its economy weakened, its oil and gas resources shunned, and its military exposed as incompetent, where else can Russia turn?

On February 25, the day after Russian armored columns stormed into northern Ukraine, I emailed my former tutor at King’s College London and asked how he thought it would end. He was quite downbeat, assuming (as almost all of us did) that Kyiv would fall very soon. He gave a range of options, including the one “where you and I are both dead.”  Interestingly, only Prof Measrsheimer of the Journal’s pundits even mentions the nuclear option: “If pushed to the wall, Moscow would at least consider using its nuclear arsenal to salvage the situation. After all, that was NATO’s policy during the Cold War in the event that the Warsaw Pact’s conventional forces were defeating NATO’s armies and threatening to overrun Western Europe.” 

It’s a depressing notion, but I’m not sure that the combination of a weak Russia and a strong China is any less to be dreaded.



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