Julia Ioffe, one of the best, most competent reporters covering Russia today, reminds us why Vladimir Putin's death or exile wouldn't change as much as some in the West think:
The first time I took a Soviet history class, it was taught by the legendary scholar and Stalin biographer Stephen Kotkin, who asked a question that has since been seared into my memory. During his lecture on Stalin’s terror, Kotkin asked, essentially, how can one man kill millions of people? Sure, Stalin could have said, kill the following 1,000 people. But any of us could say the same thing and nothing would happen. Not a single person would die. So how did Stalin kill not just 1,000 or 10,000 people, but millions of them?
When you read histories and memoirs of that era, you realize how many people were required to put the terror in motion and maintain it. When you think about all the snitches, investigators, drivers, interrogators, guards, cooks, doctors, and supervisors needed to carry out the execution and internment of tens of millions of people, you realize that there were probably more collaborators than victims. These were people who showed up at other people’s doors before dawn, ransacked their homes, and led them down to a waiting car, which someone then had to drive to a fully staffed, giant prison complex, where the prisoners were processed, thoroughly searched, and put in filthy, overcrowded cells. And on and on down the line.
If [this] was only Putin’s war, then nothing would have happened when he gave the order to invade Ukraine—much as nothing would happen if I gave the command to seize my neighbor’s car. It happened because millions of Russians are carrying out his orders, pulling the triggers and driving their tanks into Ukraine. It’s happening, too, because Russian people allow it to happen. Because, despite the thousands who protested the war over the weekend, tens of millions more support it. Three recent polls indicate that two-thirds of Russians support the war in Ukraine, at least the version they’re shown on television.
That’s why I believe that even if Putin dies tomorrow, we are far more likely to get a Yuri Andropov than a Khrushchev, though both were more than happy to continue with the system Stalin built, just with some modifications. Could a palace coup sweep out Putin’s old guard and change Russia completely and for the better, at least according to what we in the West think is better? Sure. Is it likely? I doubt it. The brilliant screenwriter and director Michael Idov once joked to me that, in 100 years, Russia had reproduced essentially the same system three times: an authoritarian bureaucracy with a cult of personality at its center. Whatever its ideological trappings—monarchist, communist, neo-fascist—the core was the same. It was, he joked, a robust enough pattern for a New York Times trend story.
Meanwhile, astronaut Scott Kelly (brother of former astronaut and current Democratic US Senator from Arizona Mark) nicely burned the head of the Russian space agency after the latter Tweeted a Putin-boot-licking video of Russian technicians removing foreign flags from a joint-venture rocket.