Humans long have loved gambling. (“See that mammoth?”) So, I’m offering the over/under on a matter of great significance—Vladimir Putin’s hold on power.
I’m setting a six-month window. Take under, and you think Putin will vanish between October 15, 2022 and January 14, 2023. Bet over, and you believe he’ll be through between January 15 and April 14. If Putin hangs on afterwards, all bets are off.
Yes, Putin seems to rule Russia with an iron grip. What makes his position unstable?
Russia’s war on Ukraine is going poorly. Despite recent massive rocket attacks on Ukrainian cities, the failure likely will worsen. Facing a muddy autumn and snowy winter, Russian troops—badly trained, equipped and led—will find it difficult to advance. Likely scenario: They’ll hunker down in miserable conditions with inadequate food, clothing and shelter. Low morale will plummet further.
Granted, Putin controls most of Russia’s media. But despite his ranting about a culture war with the West, cracks in the war’s image have appeared. Deputies from 18 municipalities called on Putin to resign. To the best of my knowledge, none have been arrested. Some media figures have questioned the war. (Using the word war is punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment.) Alla Pugacheva, the Russian pop music legend, condemned Putin’s aggression.
Of interest, several Russian oligarchs and executives leaped out of hotel windows or fell off their yachts. Had they expressed anti-war, anti-Putin sentiments and been eliminated by far-right patriots?
The battlefield littered with Russian dead, Putin called up 300,000 reservists. Protests filled cities—and jail cells. As many as 200,000 men (New York Times)—perhaps more—have fled Russia. Flights out—ticket prices higher—sold out. Roads out were clogged. Families left behind no doubt are spreading the word, if only in whispers, that Putin has bitten off more than he can chew. That he sees their loved ones merely as cannon fodder.
Putin admitted that mistakes had been made with the call-up. Men still seek to leave. Two weeks ago, following sham referendums, he incorporated four Ukrainian provinces into Russia. Ukraine clawed back some of that territory. Borders remain undefined.
The situation remains alarming. Many Russians—including those in high positions—cannot help considering not just thousands of dead Russian troops but also a Western threat to their own wellbeing and safety if Putin gives the go-ahead to nuke the battlefield.
Within ruling circles, opposition could be nearing critical mass. Hawks have expressed their displeasure. In response, Putin replaced his commanding general in the Ukraine theater. Russian attacks on civilians may increase but miliary performance will continue its collapse.
Re the over/under, Russian TV and radio may announce that Vladimir Vladimirovich has fallen ill and been taken to a secure place to recuperate. Unless, an overworked hero, he suffered massive heart failure. As the funeral dirges die down, the committee ruling the Kremlin will point their collective fingers at their late leader.
Will the junta, despite growing outcries in Russia, double down on Ukraine and risk war with NATO? Or, will it seek to negotiate a face-saving withdrawal—no small task? I wish I knew.
But I’ll bet anything that despite his bravado and bluster, Vladimir Putin sees his potential fall from power as very real. The over/under is no illusion.
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