A Russian Twilight: Harsh Reality vs. Putin’s Bluster

Peter Zeihan Geopolitical Analysis

Top Soviet-Era General Tells Putin to Resign Over Ukraine

[Top Soviet Era General} Ivashov’s solution: Fire Putin if he can’t be forced to resign and, if necessary, put him in prison for his “criminal policy of provoking war.” 

Of course, all of that is highly unlikely to occur.

And yet, according to Ivashov’s account, he is speaking for a significant portion of Russia’s professional military, the one institution most trusted by the Russian people. If his claim is true, then those military men, retired or still in uniform, must feel very strongly or else they would have remained comfortably quiet, enjoying their pensions and privileges, rather than incurring the wrath and inevitable punishment of Putin. 

Putin undoubtedly will find a way to punish Ivashov for his outspoken criticism, and perhaps other members of the All-Russian Officers Assembly as well. But he cannot wipe out all those who believe what Ivashov has said. Nor can he afford to alienate his professional military.  

It just may be that with all his saber-rattling and gamesmanship over Ukraine, Putin may have created an opposition that he cannot silence so easily.

Russian Generals Dismayed Over Putin’s Impending Disaster for Russia

Russia’s Demography and the Catastrophe of War With Ukraine

For 11 months, according to Rosstat, 1.284 million children were born in the country – 21.5 thousand less than in the same period of 2020. The relative birth rate – 9.6 children per thousand of the population – has been the lowest since 2000.

For every person born in Russia, there were almost two deaths. As a result: in January-November, the natural population decline accelerated by another 1.6 times and reached 945.1 thousand people, and for the first time in the post-Soviet period it exceeded one million (1.059 million) accumulated over the past 12 months.

As a result of the excess of death rate over birth rate, the country lost 2.9 thousand people per day, 120 people per hour or two people per minute, it follows from statistics.

Russia is Losing 3,000 People Per Day!

A nation whose people are dying away in peacetime and suffering economically and in almost every other way, is not a country that should be going to war against a young nation that in many ways is far more clever than the rapidly aging nation that it split away from.

Russia: Not the Demographics for War

This demographic reality is perhaps the greatest limiting factor for Putin’s expansionist ambitions in Ukraine for two reasons. Any invasion of Ukraine would take a serious cost in Russian life, with Ukrainians prepared and motivated to resist Russian occupation in a way they were not when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov has made this explicit, saying while Ukraine would no doubt suffer in the event of war, it would also “not mourn alone.” And most Russian casualties would be soldiers in their 20s—members of the same small generation born during the 1990s whom Russia can scarcely afford to sacrifice.

The second limiting factor relates to the West’s response to any Russian move on Ukraine. Scholars debate the utility of sanctions in changing behavior, but their economic impact has been clear. Russia’s economy is still smaller than it was in 2014, when Western sanctions in response to Crimea’s occupation helped reduce GDP by more than a quarter. And the West still has a lot more economic pain to inflict, from freezing Russia out of SWIFT (the system through which international banks make transfers) to canceling Nord Stream 2 (the pipeline delivering natural gas from Russia to Germany). These sanctions would trigger capital outflows and economic turmoil to an extent not seen since the 1990s—depressing Russia’s birthrate at the moment it most needs it to rise.

Rather than being purely a limiting factor, it’s possible to argue Russia’s weak demographic hand has made it even more dangerous. After all, Russia’s need for more people is no doubt a motivating consideration for its current aggressive posture toward Ukraine, and Putin has said the thought of a depopulated Russia haunts him most—even if the idea that Ukrainians would sign up to be good Russians is largely delusional. But Russia’s demography and the long shadow of the 1990s severely inhibit what the Kremlin can do now. Russia’s future ambitions are still weighed down by its recent past.

Putin Haunted by Depopulating Russia
A Russian Tragedy

It has been hard for many former Soviet leaders, spies, and nomenklatura to let go of the idea of the “mighty Russian Empire.” As old ethnic Russians slowly die out without being replaced by new births, the number of people who can actually remember the Soviet Union will fade away. Those that remain will be less eager to shed their blood for an antiquated concept that is long past its sell-by date.

Putin has played the empire card many times, but each time he plays it, his audience of credulous supporters has shrunk. If he survives long enough he will eventually find his audience gone entirely.

Russia has always been a two-level nation: First it was the serfs and the nobility, then with the USSR it was the serfs and the party. Now it is the serfs and the oligarchs, with Putin as the chief oligarch. Regardless of the press releases, the serfs were never emancipated in Russia.

We hope they can gain their freedom soon, before they have all died off.


Putin plucked the low hanging fruit in an earlier Ukraine invasion. That Putin escapade made NATO stronger and made Russia’s economy even weaker. Since then he has massed troops on the border several times in shows of sabre rattling — almost always to distract Russians from their own dire situation caused by Putin’s own policies. The articles below assume that Putin may be serious about yet another invasion of Ukraine:

A Dictator’s Foolish Gambit

Putin Hasn’t Thought It Out Clearly

Turkey warns Putin to rethink his bluster

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