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Putin’s successor could be a lot worse

Putin with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty

As Russia’s lacklustre military performance in Ukraine drags on, Putin’s cheerleaders have settled on an age-old explanation, says Owen Matthews on the Battleground: Ukraine podcast: “the good tsar and the bad advisers”. Loyalists like Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner mercenary group, have criticised Russia’s generals, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, for their shoddy strategy. No one has yet dared criticise Putin himself for his army’s failures.

Perhaps that’s for the best. Russia suffering a full-scale defeat and Putin losing power would be “extraordinarily dangerous”. The ex-secret service “securocrats” in the Kremlin would be desperate to safeguard their influence, property and indeed their lives, prompting them to be even more aggressive and nationalist. And what about the hundreds of thousands of armed military veterans returning home after a failed war? They wouldn’t just “roll over”. Emmanuel Macron got a lot of flak for saying we shouldn’t humiliate Putin, but he’s right. The Russian strongman is less of a Hitler figure and more of a Kaiser Wilhelm II, who led Germany to a disastrous defeat in World War One, laying the ground for the rise of Nazism. It’s no surprise that while foreigners “always argue Russia could be so much better”, Russians point out the country “could be so much worse”.