What happens if Putin dies?

We also know that replacing Putin while maintaining the system he constructed intact will be very difficult. Russia is fascist, and Putin is the hub that keeps the spokes and, thus, the wheel together. His departure, which may now be considered to be imminent, will create more than a power vacuum that his closest cronies will attempt to fill. It will shake to its foundations the fascist regime. Nazi Germany was unthinkable without Adolf Hitler; so, too, fascist Italy depended on Benito Mussolini for its coherence and existence.

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Putin has spent over two decades painstakingly dismantling Russia’s nascent democratic institutions and replacing them with a highly centralized, personalistic dictatorship that derived much of its legitimacy from the personality cult he constructed for himself. That cult represented Putin as the embodiment of masculine vigor. His physical strength presaged and symbolized Russia’s strength. By the same token, a declining Putin would appear to herald Russia’s decline.

His cronies will have to either replace Putin with a dictator of similar vigor, charisma, and popularity—which is probably impossible given the age and physical unattractiveness of these men—or try to tinker with the system in such a way as to make it more amenable to rule by a weaker man. That, too, will be difficult, inasmuch as the Putin system consists of coherent institutions that “fit” according to the logic of dictatorship. It will be hard to replace parts without at the same time affecting the stability of the whole.

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