June 20, 2023

The Treacherous Path to a Better Russia

“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” U.S. President Joe Biden said of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, a month after Russia launched a brutal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Biden’s off-the-cuff remark, which his administration swiftly sought to walk back, did not merely reflect anger at the destruction unleashed by Putin’s war of choice. It also revealed the deeply held assumption that relations between Russia and the West cannot improve as long as Putin is in office. Such a sentiment is widely shared among officials in the transatlantic alliance and Ukraine, most volubly by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky himself, who last September ruled out peace talks until a new Russian leader is in place.

The first barrier to a post-Putin Russia is, of course, Putin himself.

There is good reason to be pessimistic about the prospects of Russia’s changing course under Putin. He has taken his country in a darker, more authoritarian direction, a turn intensified by the invasion of Ukraine. The wrongful detention of The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in March and the sentencing of the opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza to a 25-year prison term in April, for example, are eerily reminiscent of measures from Soviet times. Once leaders grow to rely on repression, they become reluctant to exercise restraint for fear that doing so could suggest weakness and embolden their critics and challengers. If anything, Putin is moving Russia more and more toward totalitarianism as he attempts to mobilize Russian society in support of not just his war on Ukraine but also his antipathy to the West.

Read the full article and more from Foreign Affairs.

  • Podcast
    • April 19, 2024
    The State of the War in Ukraine with Michael Kofman

    As the war in Ukraine continues into its third year, the mood has become increasingly dark. While territorial changes continue to be minor, Russia’s slow but steady advances a...

    By Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Jim Townsend & Michael Kofman

  • Podcast
    • March 22, 2024
    Putin’s Fifth Term and Russian Domestic Politics

    This past weekend, Russians went to the polls for the country’s presidential election. To the surprise of no one, Vladimir Putin emerged victorious with a record-high 87 perce...

    By Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Jim Townsend, Dr. Angela Stent & Joshua Yaffa

  • Commentary
    • POLITICO Europe
    • March 5, 2024
    What NATO allies must do to prepare for Russian aggression

    While it’s expensive to do what’s necessary to deter major aggression, it would be far more expensive to fight a major war if deterrence fails....

    By Andrea Kendall-Taylor & Greg Weaver

  • Commentary
    • Foreign Policy
    • March 1, 2024
    Ukrainians Are Resilient—But They Still Need Washington

    Beyond material support, my visit made clear that the psychological effect of global solidarity, especially from the United States, remains vital...

    By Richard Fontaine

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia