Russian President Vladimir Putin is facing the high costs of war in Ukraine and a troubled economy. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine now enters its seventh month with no apparent end in sight. Yet the conflict was supposed to be a lightning war, President Vladimir Putin’s version of Desert Storm, short, sharp, and decisive.

Thanks to the seemingly limitless support the United States and its NATO partners have rendered to Ukraine’s defenders, the Russian invasion has been complicated. As well, the West piled on sanctions and has done its best to cripple Russia economically.

Moscow, not without its own economic-warfare capabilities, has ensured that its invasion of Ukraine has spiked the price of foodstuffs globally, further harming the US economy at a precarious moment and contributing to overall instability.

Despite these moves and countermoves, Ukraine’s defense remains and continues to be effective. As the war drags on, however, there will be serious political ramifications for the nations engaged in warfare, notably the Russians.

Two weeks ago, Alexander Dugin and his daughter Darya attended a cultural festival about 100 kilometers outside of Moscow. After the festival, Alexander, a man reputed by some to be “Putin’s brain” – who put the “Putin” in “Rasputin” – opted to take a separate car back to Moscow from that of his daughter. On the highway to Moscow, Darya Dugina’s car exploded, killing her instantly. 

Accusations from the Kremlin were squarely directed at NATO and Ukrainian provocateurs. 

Yet as David P Goldman noted on Asia Times shortly after the assassination of Darya Dugina, her father had made critical comments about Vladimir Putin’s reign on Alexander Dugin’s popular Telegram channel.

Just before the assassination attempt against him, Dugin argued that Putin represented a “status quo regime” that “would not last six months” because of the obvious damage that Western sanctions and Ukraine’s effective defense had done to Russia’s military, its economy, and its society.

Dugin then appeared to call for regime change in Moscow, desiring to replace Putin’s leadership with a far less savory, militaristic, quasi-messianic political figure. 

Militarism and fundamentalism

Dugin represents a Russian imperialism not seen since the days of the czars. Not only is he a militarist desiring to see his homeland fulfill what he believed was its destiny as a “civilization-state,” but Dugin is also a fundamentalist believer in Eastern Christian Orthodoxy, the dominant religion of Russia.

For Dugin and his followers (of whom there are many, both within the Russian government and in wider Russian society), the invasion of Ukraine is the beginning of an apocalyptic battle between the forces of Russian imperialism and Christianity versus the forces of evil, secular globalism as represented by the West.

Russia’s failure to achieve a quick victory over Ukraine is not the result of poisonous ideology, according to Dugin and his believers. Instead, it is the failure of Vladimir Putin’s leadership.

Some suspect that the hit against the Dugin family may have been Putin’s subtle way of telling the Russian imperialist wing to back off from its current line of public criticism against Putin’s regime.

For its part, the Russian government has asserted that a radical group of Russian expatriates calling themselves the “National Republican Army” (NRA), who are led by former state deputy Ilya Ponomarev (the only member of the Duma to vote against Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014), are responsible.

The NRA, according to Russian state security services, wants to overthrow the current government and replace it with a Western-style democracy. Some skeptics claim that the NRA is a fabrication of Russia’s enigmatic security services; its entire existence is designed to create the justification for the massive crackdown on domestic political opponents that President Putin has ordered in the wake of Dugina’s murder.

Of course, we will likely never know who truly was behind the hit on Dugina. Yet the fact that so many actors are suspected should underscore to observers outside the country how precarious Russia’s domestic scene really is (a fact that the Kremlin has been working overtime to obscure from the West).

And the reason for the political instability, as Alexander Dugin himself alluded to on his Telegram channel, is specifically the unintended consequences of the Putin regime’s failure to achieve a decisive victory in Ukraine.

Economic doldrums

This has created a ripple effect throughout Russia: Not only is Putin’s competence as a strategist and leader now in question, but as the economy grinds to a halt – despite the yeoman efforts of the Russian government to replace its European and American clients with Chinese and Indian ones – so too will the threat to Putin’s grip on power.

A recent assessment of Russia’s economy in the wake of Western sanctions by Yale University shows how just badly damaged Russia has been by those sanctions. Yes, Russia has been able to avoid a total economic collapse thanks mainly to what some observers refer to as inertia.

But that inertia is fading, and with Putin unwilling to abandon his quixotic war in Ukraine or to achieve victory there, it is more likely that the Russian economy will continue to sink. 

Interestingly, in his Telegram rant, Dugin asserted that Putin’s regime had about six months of life left in it unless something fundamentally changed the conditions on the ground in Ukraine. Six months is also how long most Western experts say Russia’s economy has before the big crash comes.

Western pundits have insisted that the Ukraine war will only end when regime change occurs in Moscow. They may yet get what they wished for. And while an end of Putin’s brutal regime may be desirable from a human-rights perspective, Western observers fool themselves if they believe that a proto-democratic regime will arise to replace Putin’s autocracy.

What will likely transpire in the aftermath of Putin’s reign will either be a multi-sided civil war – replete with loose weapons of mass destruction and threats to the world order – or the rise of that messianic, Russian emperor whom Dugin and his followers envisage replacing Putin with. 

Remember: Russia has experimented with democracy twice in its long, rich history. In each instance, the democracy crumbled quickly and was replaced either by Bolshevism or Putinism. So yes, it’s likely true that Putin’s terrible regime is on its last legs politically. But those cheerleading for that outcome should be careful what they wish for. 

Brandon J Weichert is a former US congressional staffer and a geopolitical analyst. On top of being a contributor at Asia Times, he is a contributing editor at American Greatness and The Washington Times. Weichert recently became a senior editor at 19FortyFive. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy, and Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life. He can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.