Do NOT Fear Putin’s Demise : Victory for Ukraine – Democracy for Russia

Garry Kasparov and Mikhail Khodorkovsky | Foreign Affairs

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin

The regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin is living on borrowed time. The tide of history is turning, and everything from Ukraine’s advances on the battlefield to the West’s enduring unity and resolve in the face of Putin’s aggression points to 2023 being a decisive year. If the West holds firm, Putin’s regime will likely collapse in the near future.

Yet some of Ukraine’s key partners continue to resist supplying Kyiv with the weapons it needs to deliver the knockout punch. The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden in particular seems afraid of the chaos that could accompany a decisive Kremlin defeat. It has declined to send the tanks, long-range missile systems, and drones that would allow Ukrainian forces to take the fight to their attackers, reclaim their territory, and end the war. The end of Putin’s tyrannical rule will indeed radically change Russia and the rest of the world — but not in the way the White House thinks. Rather than destabilizing Russia and its neighbors, a Ukrainian victory would eliminate a powerful revanchist force and boost the cause of democracy worldwide.       

Pro-democracy Russians who reject the totalitarian Putin regime — a group to which the authors belong — are doing what they can to help Ukraine liberate all occupied territories and restore its territorial integrity in accordance with the internationally recognized borders of 1991. We are also planning for the day after Putin. The Russian Action Committee, a coalition of opposition groups in exile that we co-founded in May 2022, aims to ensure that Ukraine is justly compensated for the damage caused by Putin’s aggression, that all war criminals are held accountable, and that Russia is transformed from a rogue dictatorship into a parliamentary federal republic. The looming end of Putin’s reign need not be feared, in other words; it should be welcomed with open arms. 


Putin’s effort to restore Russia’s lost empire is destined to fail. The moment is therefore ripe for a transition to democracy and a devolution of power to the regional levels. But for such a political transformation to take place, Putin must be defeated militarily in Ukraine. A decisive loss on the battlefield would pierce Putin’s aura of invincibility and expose him as the architect of a failing state, making his regime vulnerable to challenge from within.

Any territorial concessions made to Putin will inevitably lead to another war down the road.  The West, and above all the United States, is capable of providing the military and financial support to hasten the inevitable and propel Ukraine to a speedy victory. But the Biden administration still hasn’t coalesced around a clear endgame for the war, and some U.S. officials have suggested that Kyiv should consider giving up part of its territory in pursuit of peace — suggestions that are not reassuring. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has made it clear that the Ukrainian people will never accept such a deal.

At the root of Washington’s unwillingness to supply the necessary weapons lies a fear of the potential consequences of decisively defeating Russia in Ukraine. Many in the Biden administration believe that Putin’s downfall could trigger the collapse of Russia, plunging the nuclear-armed state into chaos and potentially strengthening China. 

But such fears are overstated. It is not the collapse of Putin’s regime that Washington should fear, therefore, but its continued survival. The risk of a Russian collapse is, of course, real. But it is greater with Putin in office — pushing the country in an ever more centralized and militarized direction — than it would be under a democratic, federal regime. The longer the current regime remains in power, the greater the risk of an unpredictable rupture. Putin’s aggression has exposed the inherent instability of his model of government, which is built on the need to confront foreign enemies. The Kremlin Mafia, having turned Russia into a staging ground for its military plans, has already threatened to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

For nearly two decades, some Western pundits have claimed that the Russian people will never accept democracy and that Russia is doomed to revanchism. Indeed, Putin’s propaganda has managed to instill in a sizable segment of Russian society the view that Western values are entirely alien to Russia. But economic integration with the West has enabled other countries to overcome a fascist heritage. And deeper integration with Europe, coupled with the conditional easing of Western sanctions, could help Russia do the same.

In the aftermath of Putin’s military defeat, Russia would have to choose: Either become a vassal of China or begin reintegrating with Europe, having first justly compensated Ukraine for the damage inflicted during the war and punished those guilty of war crimes. For the majority of Russians, the choice in favor of peace, freedom, and flourishing would be obvious — and made even more so by the rapid reconstruction of Ukraine.


Putin’s military defeat would help catalyze a political transformation in Russia, making it possible for those seeking a brighter future to dismantle the old regime and forge a new political reality. The Russian Action Committee has laid out a blueprint for this transformation, aiming to reestablish the Russian state “on the principles of the rule of law, federalism, parliamentarism, a clear separation of powers and prioritizing human rights and freedoms over abstract ‘state interests.’ ” Our vision is for Russia to become a parliamentary republic and a federal state with only limited centralized powers (those necessary to conduct foreign and defense policy and protect citizens’ rights) and much stronger regional governments. 

Getting there will take time. Within two years of the dissolution of Putin’s regime, Russians would elect a constituent assembly to adopt a new constitution and determine a new system of regional bodies. But in the short term, before that assembly could be seated, a transitional state council with legislative powers would be needed to oversee a temporary technocratic government. Its nucleus would be composed of Russians committed to the rule of law, those who have publicly disavowed Putin’s war and his illegitimate regime. Most have been forced into exile, where we have been free to organize and create a virtual civil society in absentia. Such preparations will enable us to act swiftly and work with the Western powers whose cooperation the new Russian government will need to stabilize the economy.

Immediately after assuming power, the state council would conclude a peace agreement with Ukraine, recognizing the country’s 1991 borders and justly compensating it for the damage caused by Putin’s war. The state council would also formally reject the imperial policies of the Putin regime, both within Russia and abroad, including by ceasing all formal and informal support for pro-Russian entities in the countries of the former Soviet Union. And it would end Russia’s long-running confrontation with the West, transitioning instead to a foreign policy based on peace, partnership, and integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. 

On the home front, the state council would begin to demilitarize Russia, reducing the size of the armed forces and by extension the cost of their maintenance. It would also dissolve the organs of Putin’s police state, including the repressive Federal Security Service and Center for Combating Extremism, and repeal all repressive laws adopted during Putin’s rule. All political prisoners would be released and fully rehabilitated, and a broader amnesty program would be adopted to reduce the overall number of prisoners in Russia.

At the federal level, the state council would pursue lustration, conducting open and thorough investigations of former officials to disqualify those responsible for the prior regime’s abuses. In addition, it would liquidate all political parties and public organizations that supported the invasion of Ukraine, so that they cannot interfere with the construction of a new Russia. At the same time, the council would liberalize electoral laws, simplify the process for registering political parties, and scrap Putin-era restrictions on rallies, strikes, and demonstrations.

The state council would also begin the process of decentralizing the country, transferring broad powers to the regions, including in the budgetary sphere. Such reforms would weaken Russia’s all-powerful imperial center: If the federal government does not have total control over state finances, then it won’t have the means to wage military adventures. 

Finally, the council would ensure that war criminals and senior officials from Putin’s regime were held accountable. Those responsible for the worst war crimes would be tried in an international tribunal, and Russia itself would try the rest. To do so, it would need to draw a clear line between war criminals and former regime operatives — offering various forms of compromise with the latter to better assure a peaceful transition.

This is a make-or-break moment for Ukraine. Biden can turn the tide in Kyiv’s favor by backing up his declarations of support with the delivery of tanks and long-range weaponry. He can also hasten the demise of Putin’s regime, opening up the possibility of a democratic future for Russia and demonstrating to the world the folly of military aggression. The United States cannot let its fears stand in the way of Ukraine’s hopes.


  • GARRY KASPAROV is Chair of the Human Rights Foundation, Co-Founder of the Russian Action Committee, and a former world chess champion.
  • MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY is Co-Founder of the Russian Action Committee and a former political prisoner in Russia.
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  • kamtanblog  On 01/30/2023 at 12:33 am

    Long on speculation
    Short on facts

    Nothing is forever
    Regime change is inevitable
    Change we must as die we will

    One certainty is this war (unprovoked) will not end soon with no victors….WW2 lasted 5+ years. There will be no WW3 !
    No predictions on timescales.
    Wars are but testing ground for military hardware/technologies!
    Not holding my breath on when it will end.

    My two cents

    K UK 🇬🇾🇬🇧🇬🇾🇬🇧🇪🇸🇬🇧

    • Chris  On 01/30/2023 at 12:40 pm

      In a different era, this unprovoked conflict would have spread to neighbouring countries and possibly gone worldwide by now.

      With information currently instantly available to most people, including big and small, important or not, the world knows what the horrific consequences of war are. This effectively serves as a deterrent, one hundred percent.

      At the moment, I cannot see this conflict dragging on beyond this year. It’s possible, however, that pressure from inside Russia could build to a boiling point and someone close to him (Putin) could take him out.

      As for the democratization of Russia, it doesn’t appear that that it will happen anytime soon nor reparations or compensation for losses suffered by Ukraine. But it will be justice served if it ever happens.

      But who knows what the future may unfold? We shall find out sooner or later.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 01/30/2023 at 11:43 pm

    How Putin Made Himself Maidan-Proof By Waging War On Ukraine

    Since its start, the conflict in Ukraine has been tightly linked to Putin’s fear of an opposition-led challenge to his rule.

    Leonid Ragozin | Al Jazeera

    It has been two years since a major wave of street protests provoked by the arrest of opposition leader Alexey Navalny hit Russia. To many, the events of January and February 2021 may seem unrelated to the war in Ukraine, but they are, in fact, closely linked.

    Let us remember how this story unfolded. In August 2020, Navalny suffered a near-lethal poisoning, which landed him in a German hospital. An investigation by Bellingcat and Der Spiegel established with a high level of certainty that he was poisoned by Russian secret service operatives.

    Having barely recovered from the poisoning, Navalny surprised many by returning to Russia five months later. He was apprehended at the airport and has been in jail ever since.

    In the following weeks, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in 185 cities across the country, calling for the opposition leader’s release. According to OVD-Info, a group monitoring political repression in Russia, more than 11,000 people were arrested, dozens were injured and about 90 people faced criminal charges.

    President Vladimir Putin’s main dark art, which has helped him stay in power for so long, is that of shifting public attention away from domestic troubles. LESS THAN TWO MONTHS AFTER THE NAVALNY PROTESTS WERE SUPPRESSED, he ordered the deployment of a massive force at the Russian border with Ukraine in what became a prelude to the full-scale invasion of this country a year later.

    These two themes – Russia’s internal instability and the war in Ukraine – are fundamentally interlinked. By waging a war in Ukraine, Putin is avoiding confrontation with his own population and keeping the opposition at bay. PUTIN HAS ESSENTIALLY OUTSOURCED HIS DOMESTIC CONFLICT TO RUSSIA’S NEIGHBOUR UKRAINE.

    Domestic unrest was certainly not the only reason why Putin started preparing for the invasion. That same fateful month, which saw Joe Biden enter the White House, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a drastic change of tack in his Russia policy.

    He launched an attack on Putin’s chief ally in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk, whose party climbed to the top of opinion polls in December 2020. Simultaneously, he initiated much-publicised campaigns for joining NATO and doing away with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.

    With Medvedchuk still in the game, Putin could have safely counted on the political environment in Ukraine gradually changing in the way that was conducive to his political goals of ending the conflict in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on his terms. But the forceful removal of his ally from the political scene and the destruction of his increasingly influential media empire made this impossible, prompting the Russian president to resort to a more drastic line of action.

    Yet it is on the domestic front where Putin has achieved the most by triggering an escalation in Ukraine. Rising tensions served as a smokescreen for the ultimate destruction of Navalny’s movement and the Russian opposition.

    There is a perverse logic to the Kremlin’s actions if you look at the events from its vantage point. Putin and his entourage genuinely believe that Navalny and his supporters are paid agents of the West intent on staging a Russian version of the Maidan protests.

    Russia’s initial attack on Ukraine in 2014 was a way of punishing it for its Maidan revolution but, even more importantly, of showing the Russian public what they would face if they followed the Ukrainian example.

    The 2014 invasion allowed Putin to quash what remained of the Bolotnaya protest movement, which rocked Moscow in 2011 and 2012. But the relatively calm years following the hot phase of the war in Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 saw public attention in Russia shift again to domestic grievances.

    In 2017 and 2018, opinion pollsters started picking up a dramatic shift in public sentiment: The demand for stability was diminishing in favour of political change. In 2018, a Levada Centre poll showed 57 percent of respondents believed “full-scale changes” were needed in the country. This figure rose to 59 percent the following year.

    That was also the time when Navalny launched his presidential campaign and set up the largest opposition network in recent history, opening offices in most regions of the country. Fearful of his movement and its Maidan potential, the Kremlin first knocked Navalny out of the presidential race on a made-up pretext and then tried to poison him.

    The escalation and eventual full-scale invasion of Ukraine, allowed Putin to do away with the Russian opposition and remove the threat to his regime. This was reflected in opinion polls as well. The share of Russians hoping for change fell to 47 percent in 2022 in Levada’s poll.

    Today, Navalny is lingering in jail where he is being treated in a way that borders on outright torture. Every other major opposition politician is either jailed, under house arrest or in exile. Hundreds of thousands of anti-Putin Russians have fled the country, including pretty much all independent journalists and most civil society activists.

    As a result, Putin’s political regime appears to be more stable than ever – even if it loses the war in Ukraine. At the end of the day, there is nothing more stable than an isolated authoritarian regime under Western sanctions. IRAN, CUBA AND NORTH KOREA ARE A TESTAMENT TO THAT.

    In the meantime, with the war raging, Putin can consider himself fairly Maidan-proof.

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