Actually, Killing Putin will PREVENT Nuclear War

Cowardly pundits in the America media seem obsessed with the idea that angering Putin in any way would lead to nuclear war, and are determined to flex their inner-Neville Chamberlains in order to pretend this situation in Ukraine can end well if all we all just give Putin everything he wants or tip-toe around him like a toddler. [Forgetting I guess that we’ve done that for more than 20 years, and it very plainly hasn’t worked.] It’s astoundingly spineless to watch them talk about not wanting to escalate things with Putin because he might “lash out,” as if invading a sovereign democracy, trying to assassinate their President multiple times, firing on nuclear power plants that could trigger the next Chernobyl, and pretending he can annex an entire country in 2022 isn’t lashing out.

It seems increasingly obvious that the way out of this is to just kill Vladimir Putin, which would create a power vacuum in Moscow, and then make a deal with whoever takes his place. But the same pundits who are always wrong (only a few weeks the exact same people were saying Putin would’ve invade at all) seem particularly fond of the idea that killing him would lead to nuclear war. But that’s wrong, obviously. [It’s actually a much, much bigger fantasy to believe Putin can invade a democracy, hold that entire country, install a puppet government, kill Ukraine’s current leaders, and the world will just say “oh well, to the victor go the spoils, I guess we’ll have to lift sanctions now.”]

The only person alive that could authorize a nuclear missile launch is Putin himself, and he’s dead in this scenario. He has been so systematic in accumulating power, just as there are few people that could stop him from ordering an attack right now, there are few people that could authorize one to “avenge” him…and even fewer who would actually want to.

Right now, only Putin has the power to order the “General Staff” to use “perimetr” to overrule the usual chain of command for a nuclear strike. If he were to die right now, it’s not remotely clear who would take over Russia, and the General Staff can’t authorize an attack of that magnitude without a leader, and it’s a stretch to believe they would even want to. One reason democracies like the U.S. are more stabile (and usually more retaliatory) than dictatorships is because of a clear line of succession, and a commitment to prioritize justice over selfishness, which we don’t see with Putin’s inner circle.

There would be infighting for control of the country for several weeks or months, and whoever did take over would be in a tenuous role, and an incredibly weak position to start a war with the world—especially a nuclear one.

Dmitry Medvedev (the Mike Pence of Russia, a long-pushed-around number 2 who would probably be relieved Putin is out of the way) was the “leader” when Putin had to pretend he wasn’t in charge for a term limit, and has been thoroughly shoved aside in recent years. Let’s say he takes over: his government is weak; his real rule just starting out; there’s mass protests from the people due to how unpopular this war is becoming; their economy has catered from sanctions and he needs to get those lifted; he has a crippling war going on in Ukraine that needs some type of resolution; he’s inheriting a country that’s become a pariah on the world stage; even “allies” like Belarus and Chechnya are rethinking their relationship to Russia now that the man they were afraid of is dead; every “loyalist” is trying to secure concessions and a better deal for themselves now that the Big Boss is out of the way; some challengers have to be bought off and some have to be killed; he has to juggle oligarchs and security service honchos who all want to know what’s in it for them, etc. And this is the most experienced leader they have in Putin’s absence, others would be starting the Presidency from square one.

There is no way in hell a man in that position wants to start a war with the United States or Europe and wants to become even further ostracized by using a nuclear weapon on anyone. Whatever countries are not hit with a first strike would have urgent incentives to invade Russia, kill whoever ordered that strike, and take over the entire country to rebuild it and dismantle all their remaining nuclear weapons. At this point, even China has no other choice but to join the “Coalition of the Sane” to take away Russia’s nuclear weapons, since the entire planet could be swallowed up by a mushroom cloud.

But whoever takes over the country isn’t going to do any of that because they have a restless, impoverished, needing-to-be-reassured population on their hands. For example, when Joseph Stalin finally died, the “reformer” Nikita Krushev had to make lots of concessions to the people to shore up their support. Many of those erroneously arrested by Stalin were released.

Medvedev (or whoever takes over) would have to appear sane, reasonable, and willing to stop the insanity in order to end the Ukrainian war, stop the sanctions, improve Russia’s economy, and put things back on a path to normalcy for the fragile state he’s inherited. This is what the Russian people want him to do, it’s what the oligarchs and security service honchos want him to do (only a couple really give a damn about Putin anyway), it’s what the world (which will properly integrate and enrich Russia for the first time in over a century) wants him to do, and it’s what he will do.

The plain fact about killing the head of an enemy group or rogue state is that it almost never actually leads to retaliation, despite media hand-wringing: People were afraid of reprisals for killing Bin Laden, and that never happened. They were afraid of reprisals for killing Gaddafi, and that never happened. They were afraid of reprisals for killing Iranian General Suleimani, and that never happened. They were afraid of reprisals both times the heads of ISIS were killed, and that never happened. They were afraid of reprisals for killing Saddam, and you’ll notice Iraq has NOT invaded the U.S. [The vast majority of the Iraqi military didn’t give a damn about Saddam. They only formed an insurgency when W. Bush made the idiotic decision to disband the Iraqi military and cost them their jobs, not out of loyalty to Saddam and his hooligan sons. ]

That’s because whoever takes over isn’t concerned with getting vengeance so much as building their own thing. A lot of times, they might be kind-of grateful to whoever put them in that position in the first place. This is one reason why killings of top criminals is so common by rivals, and they don’t sit around fretting “but if I kill the head of a rival cartel today, won’t whoever takes over just be really, really mad at me?” They do it, and do business with a new leader, who’s much more agreeable because 1. He doesn’t want to be the next one killed, 2. He needs to stop the fighting that’s hurting his bottom line, and 3. He’s just inherited the keys to the kingdom, so life is pretty good for him actually.

You can talk about Russian policies of vengeance or nuclear weapons all you want, but that doesn’t change the calculus for whoever has to actually lead the country. After all, Putin’s government has never been particularly confined by laws made by past rulers (just like the promise not to invade Ukraine if they gave up their nuclear weapons), so why should this be any different?

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