Better the devil you know?   What might Putin’s demise mean when it comes?

With regular frequency, you’ll see a newspaper article about how Vladimir Putin is seriously and terminally ill.  Usually this will come accompanied by some speculation regarding his mental health and the possibility that he is acting irrationally in Ukraine, raising the spectre of him going further in his supposed madness and ushering in a nuclear Armageddon.   You will then see further commentary to the effect that there are people in Moscow becoming concerned about Vlad, worried that he is out of control, frustrated at his failure in Ukraine and alarmed at the damage that his ill advised campaign has done to Russia. The rumours circulating, which have in fact persisted from very early in the war are that at any point soon, these men will launch a cue to remove Putin.  This is something that many are hoping for with the belief that it will bring the war to an end and with an end to the war, an end to the wider disruption and damage it has caused including the energy crisis.

However, before we get our hopes up, it is worth considering a few things. It strikes me that if Putin is both as weak and as dangerous as supposed that people around him could have moved against him sooner, yet they have not.   They have allowed him to stay in office and they have happily gone along with his orders.  This at least hints at the possibility that there are enough people with enough power around the president who are happy for him to continue in office and happy with the policies he is executing. 

It is possible that some of them are happy to encourage Putin in his Ukrainian misadventure, assuming that a heavy, debilitating loss there will work for them in the long run, that it will weaken both Vladimir and his potential anointed successors, enabling them to move against him or be well placed to succeed him when the right time comes.  However, it is equally possible that many around him share his worldview, his strategy and even his tactics.

Even if some do not agree with his specific tactics, this does not mean that they don’t share the same vision of seeing Russia restored to previous glories, the fall of the USSR avenged and the west humbled.  Some may believe that the invasion of Ukraine was strategically correct but has been poorly executed. They may believe that Russia should go harder into the country, they may be more willing to use tactical nuclear weapons there to fulfil their aims.  Who knows? It could even be Putin’s own memories of happier relationships with Britain and the US in the past that hold him back from worse atrocities.  They may believe that the invasion was the wrong move or that there is no other option at least for the time being to withdraw and reach a settlement.  However, if they share the same strategic aims, this means that a withdrawal does not guarantee an end to cold war type tactics that could continue to cause suffering in Ukraine and the wider region for years to come.

We simply cannot assume that things will be better when Putin goes.  Things might get worse.  That’s where the old saying “better the devil you know” starts to come into play. 

One of the themes in the book of Isaiah is that God’s people have a tendency to fear immediate threats and hope that those oppressing them will fail and fall. At that stage in history, the people of Judah saw Sennacherib and the Assyrians as the main threat.  They would have done anything to help hasten his demise.  Yet, the prophet Isaiah persistently warns that there were greater threats and worse things to fear than the Assyrian armies.  Sennacherib and his empire would in time fall, all of earth’s empires decline and fail eventually, some gradually over many years, some without warning, seemingly overnight.

However, the people needed to know that there was a greater threat and not just the looming shadow of stronger powers still such as the Babylonians and the Persians.  No, their greater danger came from God’s judgement.  This also meant that they could not put their hope in earthly alliances or the demise of immediate threats.  Their hope needed to be in God and his coming king.

Putin’s regime will one day fall. The man himself will die and have to give an account before God.  Eventually others will gain power within Russia or other regional and world powers will supplant their threat.  However, this should not be where our hope is.  Nor should our fear be of Putin, his regime or even the threat of nuclear attack.

We are taught to fear God, to recognise that our sin deserves eternal judgement.  We are called to put our hope in him and in the mercy and forgiveness available to us in Jesus Christ.

%d bloggers like this: