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Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist

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What’s the likelihood of Vladimir Putin getting assassinated?

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Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist

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Russia’s ongoing military struggles in the Ukraine War have been the subject of international ridicule. There is even speculation that if Ukraine’s counteroffensive proves successful, it could lead to Vladimir Putin’s exit from power.

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan cautions that any scenario involving Putin’s removal may not change much. He says the Ukraine War is about Russia’s survival from demographic calamity, not Putin’s ego.

Excerpted from Peter’s June 15 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

This is the first of the “Ask Peter” series, so I figured we’d kick it off with a two-parter. First, what’s the likelihood of Putin getting assassinated? Second, how is Russia’s demographic situation?

Answering the second question will help us understand the first question. Russia is in contention for the worst demographics in the world…Ukraine and China are up there too. One reason is the vast demographic gouges caused by past trauma, the big one being the collapse of the Soviet Union, which doubled the mortality rate and halved the birth rate. More recently, over a million people have fled Russia since the war started, many being young men avoiding the draft.

The collapsing government and nonexistent education system amplify this grim situation. With all these factors stacking up, Russia views its position as existential (because it is). The only path to survival is expanding and conquering the necessary geographical barriers.

This war has to end with one side being completely defeated. Even if the Ukrainians can humiliate Putin to the point that revolutions break out in Moscow and they put a democratic government in power, the Russians wouldn’t be able to climb out of the hole they’ve dug. The Russians are in this thing until the end. And their demise is coming this century. The only question is will it be in a few years or decades?

As for Putin, it doesn’t really matter if he goes bye-bye. There are scores within Russia’s top rungs ready to see this to the end. Remember: this war isn’t about one man’s ego, but rather Russia’s survival strategy.

Everyone, Peter Zeihan coming to you from Drop Gulch.
A little bit ago, I was stuck in an airport for a few hours, and I asked for video ideas. So we’re gonna do a whole series on basically what’s an ask Peter list? The first two questions are interrelated. So it’s going to will kick us off with a two parter here. Question number one was, Is it likely for Putin to be disappeared? Or assassinated or die? And what effect would that have on the war? And then second, can we get an update on Russia’s demographic situation. So you have to start by looking why the Russians are in the war. At the moment.
Russia territory it’s flat, it’s open, it’s difficult to defend. But where the Russians have shown that if you can expand beyond the flats and reach a series of geographics, funnel points, where on either side, you’ve got barriers, you can’t run a tank through, and in the middle, you’ve got a flat area that you can concentrate troops on block the access points, plug the gaps, then you can defend your lands. Possibly, the Soviets achieved this at the end of World War Two, and they held it till 1992. And when the Soviet system collapsed completely, the Russians lost control of most of those access points all but to actually, and so everything the Kremlin has been doing. Since 1982, not Putin, the Kremlin was predates him has been about reestablishing positions on or near those blocking points. This is the trans nostra occupation. This is the Jordan war, obviously Crimea, the cause like intervention being involved in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, all of this is towards the same goal of plugging those gaps. So that’s kind of piece one. Piece two is demographic. Now for those of you guys have been watching for a while, you know that Russia has among the world’s worst demographics, to argue it used to be the worst, until the Ukraine were up, unfortunately, push Ukraine into a worse position. And then Chinese data changes mean that China is probably actually been worse for Russia for over a decade at this point. But anyway, there’s these big gouges out of the side of the Russian demographic pyramid that represent periods of huge trauma and rushes past. In some cases, that is a war. World Wars are obvious. In another spot. It’s the effect of collectivization or the mismanagement of Khrushchev and especially Brezhnev. But the biggest one of all, sorry, it’s a little muddy today. The biggest one of all by far is the post Soviet collapse in the 1990s, when the death rate doubled in the birth rate half. Now, that’s kind of the background for those of you who hadn’t heard it before. What’s been happening more recently, is conservatively Russian statistics indicate that 1.3 million Russians under age 35 have fled the country since the war began with most of those trying, most of them being young men who are trying to avoid the draft. So roughly two to three times the number of men fled, the country has answered the draft summons, which is, you know, kind of embarrassing. If you are patriotic Russian. That’s piece two. Piece three is where the two of these things come together. Now,
back in 1982, there was a coup in the Soviet Union and the intelligence services, led by Yuri Andropov took over.
He died shortly thereafter, we got Jared Amir didn’t who was part of that clique. And then he died, we got Gorbachev who was still part of that clique. And as you guys know, Putin is a former KGB agent. So he was part of that clique, just at a much lower level. What this means is we had a full purge of the Soviet decision making apparatus of pretty much anyone from other factions if they weren’t associated in some way with the intelligence apparatus. Now, these people took over because they were the only ones who had a fairly accurate view of how the Russian system worked, especially economically speaking, they’re the only ones who had all the information because the one of the jobs of the intelligence bureaus was to limit the dissemination of information beyond the state. Anyway, they took over. And ultimately, the system collapsed on their watch, but they kept running the place after it fell.
Now, why, how does this relate to the other two things? Well, remember, we’ve had a demographic collapse. And because the Soviet system collapsed on its feet before the state actually broke apart, back in 1986, is the last year that we had meaningful broad spectrum Technical Education above the high school level. Put that together. It means two things. Number one, the number of people who are under age 35, and who theoretically, could be drafted is very limited. And even if the Russians had been honest about their statistics these past 20 years and right, you’re still talking about this being a much smaller pool for the Russians to draw upon than anything the Soviet Union had. And that’s even before you consider that half of the Soviet population was not Russian. So
From a timing point of view, if this war was ever going to happen if the Russians were ever going to use military tactics in an attempt to reshape their world, it always had to happen about right now, if you want to go back and read the details, there’s a bunch of that on an accidental superpower in the players chapter. And there’s a whole fat section on this on the war, specifically, in the absence superpower. And there’s a big Germany section, excuse me, there’s a big precious section in this United Nations table.
On my way to Golden Horn now
anywho
This is the last generation of fighting men, the Russians have, they only have about 8 million men in their 20s. They between the war and the people fleeing, they’ve already lost over a million of them. I don’t mean to say that, that means the Russians have to stop, 7 million to go.
But there is a limit. And the Russians are exploring where that is.
Okay, that’s kind of piece one of that piece to
the Russian educational system collapsed before the Soviet system did specifically in 1986. That means that the youngest cadre of people brought people across the entire spectrum of society that have technical training that’s meaningful, turn 60 this year? Well, those are the people that maintain the railways, and then you get the missile fleet, and the military and the energy complex. And what we’ve been seeing over and over and over through this war, not just on the battlefield, but throughout the Russian space,
is the Russians are losing the capacity of maintaining their own economic system. And this was hidden for from us for several years, at least mitigated by the fact that the Russians are commodities exporter, that generates a lot of cash. And they’ve used that cash to bring in foreigners to do the work. So the bulk of the heavy engineering, that’s been done in north central Siberia, for example, especially when you’re looking at places like the Yamal Peninsula, which is the world’s largest natural gas field, the liquefied natural gas project there, everything at Stockland. Island, this was all done by foreigners. Now, the foreigners are gone, and they’re not coming back. And don’t say that the Chinese can come in because the Chinese don’t have the expertise. They don’t know how to do deep offshore or Arctica operations. So whether it’s in two months, or two decades, we know that all of this stuff is going away. Anyway, back to the point,
youngest cadre of people with a full suite of training is 60.
There was a q&a to where the intelligence services took over.
And the demographic situation has a terminal decline. You put that together, and the entire cadre that are a survivor of that intelligence services system that were educated before 1986.
That’s less than 130 people now. Simple mortality is wiping away the capacity of the Russian Government to function, even at the top levels, maybe especially at the top levels.
Now, what does this have to do with an off ramp for the Russians? Well, they see this war is existential, they believe if they cannot get control of those geographic gaps, soon, they will lose the capacity to try. And it doesn’t matter what happens one decade, two decades, five decades from now, Russia will not have even theoretical capacity to fight off any future aggressor, no matter where it comes from in in that they are a 100%. Right? It doesn’t matter that no one’s even considering an invasion right now. They’re planning for forever. And this is their last chance. And everyone who is in that 130 people see this the world through the same lens, they were all part of the clique, that through the coup, they were all part of Putin’s inner circle. And Putin has had 23 years now, to weed out anyone who might have a different view or be a challenge to him personally. So even if he were to accidentally duct tape himself to a lawn chair and go swimming,
you’d then have the other 129 basically trying to figure out how to carry on the general vision because they all believe it. Because it’s, you know, true. Yes, there is going to be a end to this war because of politics in Moscow. What it would probably take the form of is the Ukrainians so decisively defeat the Russian military, and that it’s humiliation isn’t global, it’s local, that everyone in Moscow can see it. And if that happens, the odds of having a general uprising not across Russia just in Moscow, go up dramatically. Now, keep in mind for it to get to that point. The rest of Russia has probably already slipped to the reins to a degree. Russia is held together by occupation, intelligence, penetration and fear. And if the military is shown to be Toothless, or at least income
competent, then there will probably be certain number of rebellions throughout the Russian system already, what happens in Moscow is what matters. And if you do have a rebellion there, like you did after the Russo Japanese war, in oh five, when the Russians were humiliated, or like the end of World War One where they’re just gutted, then you have people march on the Kremlin, and Putin is removed, along with his clique. Now, that doesn’t mean that the war ends, even though Vani, the guy who’s like campaigning for democracy in Russia, has made it pretty clear that while he abhors the general incompetence and brutality of the Russian forces, he’s probably okay with the war, he sees Ukraine as his territory. So even a democratic Russia could very much choose to keep continue to prosecute the conflict. But if we do have a catastrophic military defeat, and we do have the top of the government fall, it is going to take years for any post Putin government to find its feet. And in that time, Russia’s economic situation will deteriorate further, and their demographic situation will be completely irrecoverable. So if there is a peaceful way for this to end, that’s roughly how it’s going to go. Oh, one more thing, I forgot the idea of an offering for Putin and the Russian government. Is there a way that this war can end without either side being completely defeated? And the answer is flat? No.
At this point, Russia has paid the price for major war, but got none of the benefits. And it’s actually in a worse strategic position than it was when it started. So the Russians are all in. In addition, any meaningful piece would have to require a degree of reparations and admittance of guilt. And the entire Russian upper leadership could be implicated very easily, that’s one of the downsides of you know, having a secure system where you’ve purged all possible pretenders to the throne is that everything kind of stops with you. We have literally 1000s of documented cases of war crimes. This isn’t like the Yugoslav Wars, where the Serbs actually tried to hide it, the Russians have celebrated it. In fact, you’ve got cabinet ministers celebrating the kidnapping of children, or the execution of civilians. So the the guilt is not in doubt. So even if the world was willing, even if Ukraine was willing to settle for some sort of temporary peace, without any sort of reckoning, the Russians would never be able to get the investment that they had pre war back. And at this point, because of the demographic decay, and the physical losses of the war, that is a blow from which the Russian system would recover. So Putin and the rest are in this to the end. The question is, is the end something that happens in the next few years, the next few decades, but it’ll certainly be the century. Alright, that’s it for round one. See you guys soon for the next one.

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