Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, professor at Stanford University, told "Välisilm" in an interview that he holds a coup against Putin to be unlikely and that the Russian president will choose his own successor. He also suggested that Russia is entering a volatile period.
McFaul says that Ukraine's victory should be the restoration of the 1991 borders, which includes Crimea, and that any country that believes in sovereignty, democracy and opposing annexation should support those goals as well.
The former diplomat says that he believes the Biden administration should provide Ukraine with more weapons and faster. "I most certainly believe that if Putin loses the war in Russia, it will undermine his political standing in Russia."
McFaul agrees that hoping for Ukraine's victory to cause the Russian regime to collapse is wishful thinking. The goal of the U.S. and NATO should be to restore Ukraine's sovereignty, he finds. He also says that everybody would be better off if Ukraine was given security guarantees and the ability to defend itself against future attacks, suggesting that Ukraine should be able to join NATO eventually.
He harks back to when Estonia joined NATO and how everyone thought that would be destabilizing and anger the Russians. "But look at what has happened as a result of that. Countries that are inside NATO have not been attacked. Countries that are outside NATO – Georgia is on my mind, Ukraine is on my mind – have been attacked. I think NATO expansion could be stabilizing for all countries."
McFaul suggests there is plenty of disappointment with Putin among the economic and political elites of Russia, while it is too dangerous to express it now. "But my prediction is that Putin will stay in power as long he is physically capable. I don't see a scenario where he is overthrown, that a general will lead a coup d'état. I think they're very unlikely."
He adds that the day after Putin will be a volatile time in Russia. "Because he will pick his successor, Putin 2.0, without question. But that person will not have the political support that Putin had. They won't have the history of having been in place when the Russian recovery recovered," McFaul says, adding that Putin had no hand in that and simply got lucky with his timing.
Talking about scenarios where Russia might become even worse after Putin or fall apart, McFaul says that maybe the leader after Putin might be more radical but they will be a transitionary figure. "Secondly, the Russian state today is a lot stronger than it was in 1992. So the nightmare scenarios where criminal regimes will take over nuclear weapons – I think that is very unlikely." He goes on to say that while there is a lot of corruption in Russia, influential criminal groups and private armies, they are all signs of weakness, as Putin would not need the Wagner mercenary group, would not need to hand down lengthy prison sentences [pointing to Vladimir Kara-Murza] if he was beloved and strong. "But I'm not afraid of the collapse of the Russian state in the way that we worried about in the early 1990s."
Editor: Marcus Turovski