Take away Russia’s nuclear weapons – for Putin is finished and his country may soon collapse


The Soviet Union’s successors were never made to accept the fact of defeat. Whoever comes after Putin must be forced to demilitarise

Daniel Hannan

15 July 2023 •

Vladimir Putin is finished. You can see the bleak despair behind his high, sullen, surgically-enhanced cheekbones. He looks, to use an old word, fey. The shadow is upon him.

He might struggle on for a few more weeks, even months. But the aura of invincibility on which his regime rested has gone. Potential successors are manoeuvring openly. Big companies are building private armies. Whole regions of Russia are laying the ground for independence referendums. Army officers speak openly against the leadership.

Events are taking on a momentum of their own. Once the oligarchs and generals begin to plan for a succession, to hold tentative conversations, to identify their preferred candidates, there is no going back. Putin, who understands the psychology of fear better than most men, feels his authority flooding away

The only thing that could have saved him, a military victory in Ukraine, is out of reach. I don’t mean only that his original objective of regime change in Kyiv is a distant memory. Even a secondary, face-saving goal, such as establishing full control over the four oblasts which he declared to be Russian following Stalin-style votes in September, is now unachievable.

Indeed, the terms that were being discussed in Minsk, and which Volodymyr Zelensky seemed to be contemplating as late as April of last year, are definitively off the table. There is no way that Kyiv could settle for the de facto independence of its eastern provinces under notional Ukrainian suzerainty. The best Russia can hope for is an eventual referendum under international supervision in a demilitarised Crimea following Kyiv’s reabsorption of the Donbas – a crushing defeat by any standard.

Could Putin be holding out in the hope of a Republican victory at next year’s US elections? Donald Trump has a hideous soft spot for the Russian autocrat, going so far during his presidency as to say that he believed Putin over his own security agencies. Other Republicans, while not pro-Putin, have none the less declared that they won’t fund another “forever war”.

But the whole question is irrelevant, for it presupposes that Russia’s demoralised troops could hold out for another 18 months.

In practice, it will be over before then. Sure, Ukraine has not repeated the lightning gains it made last August, but that was never going to happen. Russia has entrenched along a line which includes a belt of landmines three miles deep. To dislodge an army from such a position takes time.

The initial step, as during the first Gulf war, is to degrade the enemy’s infrastructure through bombardment – a process that cannot be hurried. In the meantime, Ukraine is probing for weak points, keeping the Russians guessing as to where the main assault will come, all the time turning up the pressure.

There is, in theory, a short-cut. Prigozhin’s march on Moscow showed the world how poorly defended Russia is. Ukraine could launch a massive left hook through Kursk, aiming to cut off the enemy’s forces. But most of Ukraine’s Western weapons were supplied on the basis that they would not be used on foreign soil. To quote Admiral Roland from Where Eagles Dare, “There are certain, ah, niceties to be observed in our relationship with our allies.”

So Ukraine is left with the option of grinding Russia down – not by hurling conscripts at guns, but by the intelligent use of advanced missiles, drones, satellites and, if they arrive, F16s. The only question is whether there will be regime change in Moscow first, or whether there will be a 1917-style Russian collapse along a section of the front.

In the latter scenario – that is, in the event that Russia’s boyars have not already deposed Putin – Ukraine will break through, cut off Crimea and kettle the large Russian garrison there. With only the fragile link of the Kerch bridge, Russia will not be able to relieve the peninsula. Ukraine will choke off supplies of food, water and electricity, invite the Red Cross to evacuate civilians, and wait for the Russian surrender.

If we can foresee these things, so can Russia’s elites. The oligarchs and siloviki know that Putin is leading them to ruin – national ruin and personal ruin. They know that, with every day that passes, the price that will be exacted from them rises. They will move sooner rather than later.

This is the context of Prigozhin’s mutiny. It is in the nature of these things that we have few solid facts. It is far from clear that Prigozhin or his men have relocated to Belarus. We cannot say why they halted when Moscow lay naked before them. We don’t know what deals were done.

But we do know that Wagner launched an armed rebellion, and we can reasonably assume that Prigozhin was at least acting in concert with forces which wanted change.

Last week, Igor Girkin, a former officer and FSB agent who played a key role in the annexation of Crimea and the Donbas, was reported to have suggested that the people behind the Wagner rising were a faction of oligarchs headed by Yuri Kovalchuk, reputedly Putin’s personal banker, and the energy magnates Arkady and Boris Rotenberg.

He seems to believe that these men aimed to weaken Putin rather than to bring him down, because they did not want him to be succeeded by a hard man such as Nikolai Patrushev. The theory goes that they used the insurrection to wring concessions from the weakened dictator in preparation for a later handover to a junta that would seek peace and protect their business interests.

We have no way of knowing whether this is right. But we do know that all sides are limbering up for a bloody interregnum, a Time of Troubles like that which preceded the accession of the Romanovs in 1613. The balance of opposed factions has broken down, the Tsar has lost all authority, and Russia faces the prospect of warlordism.

To some Western analysts, these things are terrifying. They conjure the prospect of ongoing civil war, or of local magnates acquiring nuclear stockpiles. But it is no more in the West’s power to hold the Russian Federation together than it was to hold the USSR together – something American and European diplomats foolishly tried to do in 1990.

What is in the West’s power, as some Russian dissidents are now arguing, is to push for denuclearisation, both of any breakaway republics as the price for recognition, and of the rump state around Moscow and St Petersburg.

Such a state – let’s call it Muscovy – would have few options. Its assets would have been seized for reparations, its citizens barred from overseas travel, its natural resources lost with the secession of various republics. Its choice would be to become an ill-tempered Eurasian khanate, a kind of nuclear Kazakhstan, or to embrace the free world, as West Germany did under Konrad Adenauer.

As with West Germany, the prize would be economic recovery as part of the Euro-Atlantic world. And, as with West Germany, the price would be demilitarisation – including, in this case, the destruction of nuclear weapons, possibly as part of a reduction of global stocks.

After 1990, Russia was never made to accept either the fact of its defeat or the nature of the crimes it had committed over the previous seven decades. This time, things will be different.


  1. Selected comments from DT readers:

    Peter Austin:
    “Hannan is an assiduous wordsmith: a clever chap with an engaging English sanguinity- the sort of heyho jingo copy that we have seen many times before. Putin is not going to be vanquished anytime soon: indeed, the instance for nasty dictators receiving their comeuppance is depressingly few. Mr Putin has a bunch of dictators’ party tricks that will ensure his survival. All this talk of weak and enfeebled putin is just so much wishful thinking. His schedule is a state secret: he travels in a fleet of motorcades with decoys. he has his own medical team on standby wherever he goes. There is also a series of connecting tunnels and secure private subways to take him well beyond the prying eyes of his enemies. Like Stalin, he has identical rooms wherever he goes. Finally, he has his own private army in the presidential guard and cadre of cringey sycophants who tell him what they think he wants to hear. The generals are kept at a safe distance and like Caligula and many dictators since, he showers them with gifts and pressies such a the occasional Verachon Constantin or Vlad’s fav wrist adornment a Lange and Söhne Langematik. Right now, he is probably sitting down to his fav breakfast of quails eggs and caviar laughing at us all.”

    Another Reader:
    “may soon collapse”. Possibly so, but at the moment very much alive and kicking. It is not the demise of Russia that we should be hoping for, but the removal of their troops from Ukraine and hopefully the Russian people facing up to the truth of what Putin has done.”

    Alan Spooner:
    “This is speculative garbage. I would love to see Putin fall but he may be replaced by someone far far worse. I would love Russia to join the free and democratic nations but it’s never going to happen. Hell, the way Western Europe and the States are going where up is down and left is right I don’t blame them for not queueing up.”

    David Law:
    “It’s amazing how unsuccessful Russia is.
    It has not had power change through the ballot box twice in succession. That now makes it a real outlier.
    It still lacks even the pretence of an independent judiciary.
    23 Russian regions have a gdp per head below 5k pa.
    Last year it registered fewer parents than Alabama. The economy is based on resource extraction.
    Its military equipment is laughably bad.
    The male age of death is below the retirement age in Western Europe, brought about by sky high alcohol consumption.”

    Jeremy Friend:
    “I should be very wary of ever writing the Russians off militarily.
    They lost over 12 million people in their civil war, they then had the corruption and inefficiency of the Bolsheviks nearly to ruin the country, then Stalin’s murders of millions, yet they still managed to find the army and arms to fight Hitler. Even though the Germans starved 15 million civilians to death the Russians proved remarkably resilient.
    More recently they’ve had the militarily disasters of Afghanistan and Chechen to contend with. But they still have a strong army.
    I’m merely suggesting therefore that Ukraine’s victory is not a certainty. It would be foolish to write Russia off, as Hitler (and before him that other tyrant Buonaparte) did. They seem to have the capacity to survive massive suffering and the loss of millions in war, and rebound.”

    Derek Williams
    Reply to jeremy friend –
    “It was mostly Ukrainians who “supplied the bodies” – 16% of their total population perished fighting the Nazis, compared to 12% for Russia.
    Russia itself had sided with the Nazis, to the extent of jointly starting WW2 by invading Poland from the East, while Germany invaded from the West, a fact conveniently airbrushed out of Russian history. Had it not been for Hitler’s violation of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the ongoing alliance would have amounted to an axis of evil of ineffable and inexorable scale.
    The gargantuan US aid in food and ordnance to the struggling Soviets, without which Russia would have quickly collapsed, has likewise been airbrushed out of history. Under the same Lend-Lease programme currently assisting Ukraine, the USA sent Russia 427,284 trucks (including 400,000 Jeeps), 12,000 armored vehicles (including 7,000 tanks, of which 1,386 were M3 Lees and 4,102 M4 Shermans), 11,400 aircraft (of which 4,719 were Bell P-39 Airacobras, 3,414 were Douglas A-20 Havocs and 2,397 were Bell P-63 Kingcobras), 2,328 ambulances, 35,170 motorcycles, 1,977 locomotives, 11,075 specialised cars, 4,5 million tons of food, 53% of the total US ammunition production, and provided 57.8% of Russia’s aviation fuel needs. The total U.S. beneficence to Russia through Lend-Lease amounted to $11 billion in materials (=$180 billion in the 2020 money value).
    In response, Russia has shown nothing but entitlement, ingratitude and contempt, and despite this level of assistance from the USA, Russia have always portrayed their victory over the Nazis as an entirely Soviet Union effort.”

    Derek Williams:
    “Russia has made its 3-day “special military operation” last 15 months, is being pummelled by Ukraine in Donbas, and will eventually also lose Crimea. Having taken over Northern and Southern hill positions, Ukraine now has the advantage to retake Bakhmut in a matter of weeks, that took the Wagner mercenaries over 8 months with the loss of tens of thousands of troops to flatten, in the process leaving zero infrastructure to support Russian occupation.
    At the time of writing, Russian personnel losses exceed 237,000, tanks lost exceed 4,100, alongside 8,000 military vehicles and hundreds of artillery systems and ammunition depots lost. Russia cannot even fly over Ukraine, while 90 percent of its missiles costing a billion dollars a day, and the Iranian drones are being shot down either by Patriot or other defence supplied by Europe and the UK.
    With its over 6,000 assorted nuclear weapons in a dubious state of readiness, Russia is more or less evenly matched with the “collective” West, but it would take only 100 to destroy all of Europe for 1,000 years.”

    Farmer Brown:
    “We have to impoverish and emasculate the Russian Federation. If it descends into warlordism and anarchy, so be it.”

    Derek Williams:
    “Russia is failing in every one of Putin’s stated objectives for launching his invasion:
    1. “De-nazify Ukraine”
    2. “Liberate Russians living in Donbas”
    3. “Destroy US chemical weapons labs along Ukraine’s border with Russia”
    4. “Bring Ukraine under Russian rule to prevent it joining NATO”.
    5. “Demilitarize Ukraine”
    For Objective 1 to be achieved, Russia would first of all have to round up all the so-called ‘Nazis’ governing Ukraine, but this is of course a palpable lie. Less than 2% of Ukraine is far right enough to warrant the ‘Nazi’ epithet, more or less the same as in most countries – nowhere near enough to influence public policy or to justify invasion by Russia, itself a fascist state.
    Objective 2 is likewise a proven lie, given that 4,100 of the 13,200 actually killed in the separatist movement stoked by Russia were Ukrainian military, and the remainder evenly divided between ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians.
    Objective 3: Where are the satellite, aerial and ground-level images of these putative chemical weapons labs? Russia hasn’t claimed to have taken out a single one of them. Chemical weapons labs in Ukraine were originally set up under Russian occupation but are now merely medical research biolabs.
    Objective 4? Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, only 6% of its borders were shared with NATO countries. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, this has now doubled, thereby instantiating a new 1,000 mile border with Finland.
    Objective 5: Ukraine has received tens of billions of dollars in foreign aid of high-precision ordnance that can pick off Russian munitions dumps from 50 kilometres away. Putin’s soldiers have abandoned hundreds of tanks and millions of rounds of ammunition, leading Ukrainian soldiers to joke that Russia is now Ukraine’s biggest arms supplier.”

    Louis Rodriguez:
    “Putin is the pacifier. Whoever comes next will not put up with the provocations of NATO like Putin has done. Since the UK has been the main lapdog for the US in its war against Russia, it is putting itself at risk of being attacked.”

    Derek Williams:
    Reply to Louis Rodriguez
    “You sent me back to the dictionary to check I hadn’t misremembered ‘pacifier’. In what sense is someone who invades a sovereign nation who didn’t threaten them, worthy of the epithet? If NATO is the ‘provocation’, why did Russia invade a non-NATO country? And please name all the countries who were forced against their will to join NATO. Every time Russia invades another country, NATO expands. Doesn’t that tell you something?
    Russia has gone to war in Finland, Afghanistan, Syria, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Chechnya, and now Ukraine to expand its borders or install puppet leaders.
    It has occupied Romania, Estonia, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Poland, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Moldova.
    Only two of these countries were voluntarily occupied by Russia. Not one voluntarily signed up to be ruled by Russia’s Soviet empire.”

    Derek Williams again:
    “Putin is a crime-boss, mass-murderer, arsonist, kleptocrat who understands force and force alone. His oligarchs have siphoned billions out of the Russian economy to offshore locations, stealing from the Russian taxpayer in plain sight with an elaborate protection racket masquerading as law and order. How can Putin be worth $US70 billion on a politician’s salary?
    Putin is ex-KGB, for whom lying, poisoning people and staging false flag operations are all in a day’s work. Suggesting we should all tread lightly around Putin misses that point that trying not to provoke a bully only convinces that bully that everyone is afraid of him, which only invites more bullying. The bully is the only one who gets to decide whether the bully has been “provoked”. Of course, if there was no provocation, it is always possible to manufacture a false flag ‘provocation’. Putin does not respect or honour agreements of any kind. If you make an agreement with him, he will eventually break it, and blame you.
    We don’t know what will happen if Russia loses this war, but we DO know what will happen if they win. Russia must be entirely defeated on all fronts at all costs, and at any cost. If Russia is defeated, there will be peace. If Ukraine is defeated, there will be no Ukraine, and Russia’s march on Europe begins anew.”

      • The ass wipe RFK Jr. shames the Kennedy name. JFK would kick his rear so hard, his shoe would have to be surgically removed from it.

  2. Another “putin is almost finished” article. Nothing could be better than to get this festering boil of humanity out of the Kremlin … and into death row. We’ll see about that.

    • The interesting thing is that Dan isn’t an expert on Russia or Ukraine and doesn’t claim to be. He’s from an Ulster Catholic background but unusually is staunchly pro-British and is commenting on this topic as an outside observer. His normal beat is the EU (he’s a firm Brexit man). He served as a Tory MEP to help expedite that!
      One of the hyper links in his article referenced words stated by Trump in Feb 2022, in an article by Michael Deacon.
      Extract :

      “It’s no surprise to see Trump praising Putin – he’s always had a thing for super-villains…
      When it comes to cosying up to authoritarian tyrants, the former US president has form.

      Across the democratic world, politicians have been unanimous in their condemnation of Vladimir Putin. Well, almost unanimous. Because the Russian leader’s actions have earned praise from one major Western statesman.

      Donald Trump.

      Putin’s moves this week were “genius”, “smart” and “very savvy”, declared the former US president in an interview. “I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said: ‘This is genius’,” said Trump. “Putin declares a big portion of Ukraine as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful. I said: ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s the strongest peace force. We could use that on [the United States’s] southern border… Here’s a guy who’s very savvy, I know him very well. Very, very well.”

      Commentators have responded with disgust. But this isn’t the first time Trump has praised an authoritarian tyrant. In the past he’s expressed admiration for President Xi of China (“A very, very good man”), President Erdogan of Turkey (“He’s become a friend of mine”), and Kim Jong-un of North Korea (“We fell in love”).

      • Clearly, there is something seriously wrong with the trumpet’s mind. Maybe he drank too much, took too many drugs, or has a serious case of syphilis.

  3. “There is, in theory, a short-cut. Prigozhin’s march on Moscow showed the world how poorly defended Russia is. Ukraine could launch a massive left hook through Kursk, aiming to cut off the enemy’s forces. But most of Ukraine’s Western weapons were supplied on the basis that they would not be used on foreign soil.”

    It cannot be mentioned too many times, but half of all casualties that the AFU suffers is thanks to artificial fear of its Western partners of a has-been superpower, now being reduced to minced meat through the cost of unnecessarily high level of Ukrainian blood. At the latest, when the free Russian troops so easily penetrated mafia land’s border, should Western decision makers have given Ukraine the green light to go full in. At least, to allow the AFU to go around those heavily defended areas. What the West asks of Ukraine is pure madness, and NO NATO member would ever even contemplate of doing something like this without sufficient air power and total freedom of movement.

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