Commentary: A weakened Putin is no use to Russia

And what of Putin’s suppression machine, his vaunted Federal Security Service (FSB) domestic intelligence and more than 300,000-strong Rosgvardia riot police?

Despite its extensive network, the former failed to predict Ukraine’s stiff resistance. A large part of the latter was sent across the border, initially to police the conquered territories, but ending up in the meat grinder of trench warfare, something for which its personnel never trained.

Whether they will return from the war with any respect for Putin is questionable; even the dictator’s faithful servant, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, whose fighting force in Ukraine is part of Rosgvardia, has doubted the campaign’s conduct, if not (yet) Putin’s leadership and goal-setting. 

RUSSIANS AREN’T KNOWN TO RESPECT WEAK LEADERS

If a strong Putin was widely tolerated, often appeased, and, in Russia itself, feared and obeyed, what could be the basis of a weak Putin’s power?

Certainly not sympathy: Russians aren’t known to respect weak leaders – witness the political fate of the last Soviet president, the late Mikhail Gorbachev, and many a Russian czar before him.

A Ukraine-style popular revolution in Russia is unlikely, even if Western sanctions begin to bite in earnest: The new leaders needed for something like that will not emerge overnight from Russia’s thoroughly purged civil society. But you can at least expect popular indifference in the face of top-down change.