Whatever the eventual military outcome, the invasion of Ukraine is a disaster for Russia. It has already incurred substantial military losses. If the Russians conquer the Ukrainian cities, the cost of holding them will escalate, with a guerilla/resistance movement continuing to fight using an abundant supply of arms from the EU and NATO countries. Ukraine will become Russia’s twenty-first century Afghanistan.
Russia will remain an international pariah, subjected to an economic boycott that has frozen much of its foreign exchange reserves and the assets of its oligarchs. Travel between Russia and much of the world has already ceased. Trade with the west is collapsing. Russia’s currency and capital markets will no longer function. Russia and Russians will be excluded from international culture and athletics.
Faced with so much disruption in their daily lives, Russians will not believe the disinformation the regime will disseminate. Widespread access to western media will amplify the message of Russian failure.
Were Russia a democracy, it would now have a moment in its parliament reminiscent of the 1940 confidence debate in the UK, when Tory MP Leo Amery flung at Neville Chamberlain Oliver Cromwell’s words: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”
This will not happen in the Duma. Russia is a dictatorship. In a dictatorship, regime change happens by coup d’etat, either peaceful or violent. In the Soviet Union, Stalin’s illness led to a power struggle in the politburo. Khrushchev was quietly deposed in 1964 and allowed to retire.
Without expert or better still inside knowledge of power in the Kremlin, one can hardly predict how Putin’s regime will end. Because Putin has centralized power and appears to be acting irrationally, a quiet coup comparable to that which replaced Khrushchev appears unlikely. Perhaps the oligarchs will try to convince Putin to leave quietly. If he is adamant about remaining, they may conspire with dissidents in the government and the military. If Putin wants to bring down the temple around him, those with a greater and wiser love for their country and its future will have to stop him. The rest of world is providing the pressure, but Russians themselves will have to act.