It seems like quite a lot of people think that the current war in Ukraine is entirely down to Putin, and if Putin dies / is assassinated / is replaced in a coup etc, then the war will end. Examples:

WASHINGTON -- South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is facing intense pushback from all corners of Washington after calling for the Russian people to end the Ukraine war by assassinating President Vladimir Putin.


The only way out of this crisis is to make Putin’s failure in Ukraine so disastrous for Russia and its genuine interests that his own elite will have no choice but to remove him.


Some protests say "Stop Putin" instead of "Stop Russia".

The implication is that 1) the current war is entirely because of Putin, and Putin only; and 2) if Putin loses power somehow then the war will cease because his successor will not continue the war.

How do we know that Russian foreign policy will change (and by how much) should Putin lose power?

Related: Why do news articles often refer to the leader as opposed to the country? However, the current anti-Putin (but not anti-Russia) news seems more precisely targeted on Putin than the answer to that question would indicate.

  • 8
    This question is effectively asking to quantify the exact impact of Putin on the fate of Russia. This might be too speculative in the end. A potential successor of Putin could be even more extreme than him or much less. "How do we know that Russian foreign policy will change!" As with many things we don't. Nobody can predict the future. The logic is probably something like: Putin = evil, no Putin = less evil. How much less is currently unknown.
    – Trilarion
    Mar 14 at 7:08
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    Upvoted, but with regards to Lindsey Graham's remarks those seem counterproductive if one assumes (I do) that Putin is the main decider of this war. Calling for his assassination is against norms of diplomacy, makes the US appear extremist by extension and is unlikely to convince Putin to behave more morallly. LG is a senior enough politician that he really should know better - I suspect this has more to do with putting distance between himself and Trump (Genius Putin!) for domestic political reasons without obviously dissing Trump. Quite, quite, contemptible. Mar 14 at 15:58
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Yeah, Lindsey Graham is very much alone on calling for this in public. Even real psychos like Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene think that him saying this is "dangerous & unhinged".
    – divibisan
    Mar 14 at 20:10
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    "The implication is that (...)" - the listed implications somehow miss the point IMHO. It's not really possible to tell what would be without Putin. However, an important purpose of saying "Stop Putin" instead of "Stop Russia" is not so much that it's Putin and no-one else that needs to be opposed. It is that it's not "Russia" (as a country, or its people) that the protest is directed at. After all, two typical moves of propaganda are 1) the claim that protests against country X are not because X is guilty of a certain wrongdoing, but because "the others" irrationally want to put down ... Mar 14 at 23:27
  • 4
    "The implication is that 1) the current war is entirely because of Putin, and Putin only; and 2) if Putin loses power somehow then the war will cease because his successor will not continue the war." Not quite, the implication that is removing Putin is a necessary condition to ending the war, not necessarily a sufficient condition by itself.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 14 at 23:59

7 Answers 7


I think this question answers itself.

  1. Opposition to the war in Ukraine — and the sanctions placed on prominent players and the nation as a whole — is the main reason anyone in Russia would want to risk an assassination or coup attempt. Putin has been in power a long time (and secured power for the foreseeable future) without any such efforts; the only thing that's changed is the war.
  2. Anyone who successfully wrests power from Putin is going to face internal struggles and the need to consolidate his new position of power. In that kind of transition a foreign war would work against interest. The new leader would want to stabilize the international situation quickly in order to focus on internal problems.

It's extremely unlikely (and I suspect impossible) that any new leader would be more hawkish and expansionist than Putin. Can you imagine a group staging a coup because they think Putin is not warlike enough?

  • 4
    See how hard it is to work out the military commanders for the operation in Ukraine. Everything leads back to Putin rather than a group or collective of personalities dictating. I recall a transcript from Defense Minister Shoigu meeting with Putin, ends in ".. exercises that were planned and launched on your instruction..." Mar 14 at 2:59
  • 5
    Stepping out of the war w/o reaching its goals, effectively losing it, won't stabilize anything inside the country. I'm pretty sure it would have the opposite effect and it would be a political (and probably literal) suicide.
    – ixSci
    Mar 14 at 4:55
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    Can you imagine a group staging a coup because they think Putin is not warlike enough? Maybe not a coup (although I am positive there are counterexamples in history), but I can imagine a new leader being even more warlike if Ukrainian operatives assassinate Putin.
    – Allure
    Mar 14 at 8:51
  • 17
    @Allure That's presumably why no one thinks that a Ukrainian (or western) secret operation to assassinate Putin is a good idea. If you notice the news you're quoting in the question, they are all calls for the Russians to remove Putin. Mar 14 at 8:58
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    There’s historical precedence. In the beginning of 1917, the revolution deposed the tsar, but continued the war. That lasted only a few months before the well known October Revolution deposed the new government and installed an even newer which eventually did end the war.
    – Holger
    Mar 14 at 10:02

Because the war that Russia is waging against Ukraine is a war of choice. There were no imperatives leading to the war. There was no immediate threat. There was no attack being waged against the Russian Federation. The decision to start the war was driven solely by the desire to step in a certain historical direction by Putin. Regardless of whether he was right or wrong (and he was wrong) in evaluating the historical trends, there was no immediate cause of action other than Putin's opinion.

Can a different leader have the same opinion? Sure. But even Putin wouldn't start the war today if he knew how it would turn out. But, unlike Putin, a new leader (even one who shares all of Putin's historical views) would not be burdened with all the responsibilities arising out of having made the decision to start on a path to what turned to be a disaster.

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    One 'madman' cannot dictate the policy of a nation unless there are both masses and elites going along with it. Blaming it all on Putin is too simple.
    – o.m.
    Mar 14 at 6:52
  • @o.m. Sure, but Putin probably had quite a strong impact on the fate of Russia lately.
    – Trilarion
    Mar 14 at 7:03
  • 15
    @o.m. do you mean in principle or in this particular case? Because there are many examples in history of individuals maintaining control by the threat of sheer terror hanging even over his immediate circle. I am not saying that's happening exactly, but that's just a matter of degree. I think after Putin fired Medvedev as Prime Minister, everyone else became a figurehead. Medvedev was a former President. If he wasn't safe, no one would be.
    – wrod
    Mar 14 at 7:16
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    Can you cite sources for some of the assertions in your answer?
    – Allure
    Mar 14 at 8:44
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    @o.m. Elites, sure. The "madman" builds an army around himself to enforce his diktats. As for the masses, there are two options - either you terrify them into submission (Iraq, Libya, Cambodia) or you use propaganda and limited/distorted information to feed them lies they believe (Nazi Germany). Putin has used both methods very effectively over the last 20 years.
    – Graham
    Mar 14 at 10:57

Because, whenever there is a dictator in power, they create a vacuum in the hierarchy of intellect. Most of the time, it is created automatically. Other times, it is created deliberately. Therefore, when a dictator dies or is removed by revolutions, the system of the country takes a long time to regroup and to start functioning in its full power.

This is observed times and again throughout history.

For instance, the USSR plunged into chaos on multiple occasions because of this.

The recent examples are Iraq and Libya.

  • A county with nuclear weapons becoming an other Iraq or Libya, would be really dengerous.
    – convert
    Mar 14 at 21:55

I would argue that it is not the case, and the war will not cease, to provide a zero/negative hypothesis.

There is already too much stuff on the table which cannot be safely rolled back and written off at this point.

Imagine that you are a new Russian leader sitting on a shaky chair. You are probably aged, a silovik or greatly influenced by those. And you are contemplating whether it is better to "just" disengage from Ukraine and the conflict.

  • What happens to the LDNR? Hundred of thousands of people there with Russian passports, who fought against the Ukrainian army and took posts in the separatist states. If Ukrainians get ahold of them, we're talking about a decade of filtration camps, political assassinations, and refugees from the region to Russia. Even as the Western press may decide to look the other way, in Russia these events will continue to resonate.

  • What happens to Crimea? It is now a part of Russian Federation proper, with more than 2M citizens. You may choose to withhold Crimea, in which case the EU would choose to not lift any sanctions.

  • Ukraine will of course look at this as a victory, and demand reparations. The EU will likely back them up and will force these to be paid from frozen Russian reserves. The Russian citizens, already poor, will not be happy - they were following all the news where Russian Federation wrote off non-performing Soviet debts to Africa and Cuba.

  • Airplanes are already virtually confiscated from their lessors by Russian air companies. They are becoming a toxic asset: they are no longer airworthy by international standards but will still have to be paid for. The same for businesses that are likely going to be nationalized by Russia after being stopped by their western owner companies.

  • It is very unlikely that economic relations with the West would normalize fast enough that it would compensate for the above-mentioned. There's no downside for the USA and EU to only unblock the stuff they want (titanium, wheat, etc) while leaving the rest of the Russian economy disabled. How would you cope with that?

Many people remember the February of 1917 which caused Russian Empire to disintegrate by trying to exit a war by regime change. It didn't end well. Not to say it can't be repeated, but at least people in Russia will be having much more awareness of what's going on.

And indeed, in this scenario, I can see Russian Federation cycling through multiple successive "leaders" some of whom may end up assassinated or worse, massive unrests and general ukrainization of the state.

  • 5
    "If Ukrainians get ahold of them, we're talking about a decade of filtration camps, political assassinations, and refugees from the region to Russia." no. One reason Ukraine does not want to be part of Russia is to get away from this kind of behaviour.
    – RedSonja
    Mar 14 at 12:38
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – alamar
    Mar 14 at 12:45
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    Wiki is not the most reliable of sources. However, even if these crimes were committed in the past (and there is hardly a country which has not been through this phase) it does not mean they have to do it again. Ukrainians want to join the civilised world.
    – RedSonja
    Mar 14 at 13:08
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    You need to define "ukrainization". Does it mean gradual turning away from the tradition of Soviet-style kleptocracy and wishing to join the free world?
    – RedSonja
    Mar 14 at 13:12
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    Again, I'm not sure which claim you are arguing with.
    – alamar
    Mar 15 at 7:55

You've really presented three cases: Putin dies, the Russian people assassinate Putin, and the elite remove him from power. The first case, in which Putin merely dies, is the least conducive to the ending of the war. There's little indication that there was a push from the Russian elite for the war, so once Putin is removed, whoever takes power may decide to withdraw, but that's not as strong as in the other cases.

An assassination of Putin by Russian people would require either someone to be very lucky, or to have broad support. The assassination would both be an effect of broad support, and evidence of that support, emboldening further dissent. It could easily trigger a revolution and/or civil war, and if the anti-Putin side wins that conflict, they would end the war in Ukraine.

If Putin is removed by the elites, it would signal a turn from Putin's policies, of which the war is the most prominent. It, similar to an assassination, would signal the ascendancy of anti-Putin factions, and may cause people to jump on the anti-Putin bandwagon, as that side would then appear to by the side winning. Generally speaking, coups succeed once everyone thinks they will succeed, and assassinating Putin would be a strong sign that the coup will succeed. Anyone thinking of not joining the coup would have to wonder, "If they can assassinate Putin, why wouldn't they be able to assassinate me?" It would also provide cover for a withdraw, by purging the Putin loyalists, blaming them for it, and claiming to have been against the war from the beginning.


Why do people think that if Putin ceases to be Russian president, the Russo-Ukraine war will cease ?

By people, you surely mean people in Western Europe and the Western Hemisphere.

And I often ask myself the same question when I read supposedly educated people, people old enough to remember WW2 and even past students of modern history making the same foolish speculation on TV.

Every dog will bark at its own doorstep, the saying goes. And the Russian dog has so much more vigilance than most given its appalling losses (~ 30 million people) in World War 2. It may be "politically incorrect" to say so these days but Russian people in general - not just Putin or whoever preceded/succeeds him - will object to having a NATO country in a neighboring state, moreover one that, though distinct in culture and language, has such long ties with Russia. They will also be mindful of Hitler's viewing the plains of the Ukraine as merely a lebensraum for the Greater Germany.

That is the realpolitik of the current situation. And it will have to be considered in depth before we are likely to have a permanent cessation of war and full withdrawal by Russia. Sanctions will hurt Russian people but not deter their determination to defend what they feel as the threats around them.

It is a great pity that someone of international stature was not invited to mediate a solution acceptable to this situation before it boiled over some years ago. Many political cruxes involving conflicting rights have been resolved around concord wordings respecting the rights of all concerned but in the shared context of the common right of all: to simply live.

So I doubt if ordinary people in the West think removing Putin will really remove the war. But people in Western media like journalists and commentators are simply afraid to express an officially unpopular - and admittedly very tough - truth. I wish Fisky was still around.

  • 7
    We don't really know what Russians are thinking with any good error. Maybe they are fully behind Putin, maybe not at all. Time will tell. Would WW2 have been the same if Hitler would have (somehow) died in 1939?
    – Trilarion
    Mar 14 at 11:46
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    @Trilarion "the same" - no, but "have been" - yes Mar 17 at 9:52

Even in a single political party it may be some groups representing slightly different views, not enough for any split. The the overall behavior of the party may depend on which group is dominant. These groups may not even exist in any more official way, just like the politicians A, B, C most often support each other in discussions, and D, E, F quite often support each other, while the final solution is accepted together with one of the groups yielding but not always the same. Replacing the leader may change the more dominant group.

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