Could Vladimir Putin Be Overthrown?

Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine is said to be going badly so far, but could the conflict's outcome lead to the Russian president's downfall?

Britain's Ministry of Defence said on Friday that one month on from the start of the invasion, Russian troops are losing ground, Ukrainian forces have been retaking key areas around 20 miles east of Kyiv and that the much-anticipated march on the Ukrainian capital hasn't happened.

It echoes analysis from the Pentagon last week that said Moscow is suffering from shortages and commanders are struggling to sustain their troops in combat.

Estimates vary and haven't been confirmed by Moscow, but Ukraine says that up to 15,000 Russian troops have been killed, while Kyiv has touted the demise of at least five generals as a sign that Putin's campaign is stalling.

Wrecks of Russian tanks and armored vehicles, charred remains of downed aircraft and reports of plummeting morale among Russian troops who were unclear what they were fighting for has added to pressure on Putin.

Unprecedented Sanctions

Meanwhile, the Times of London this week reported on how a Russian intelligence whistleblower said there is growing unhappiness within the Federal Security Service (FSB) toward Putin as the war continues.

Spy agency figures are angry at the unprecedented sanctions that have hit their lifestyles. Soon the measures will hurt ordinary Russians and talk of a move against Putin is gaining traction.

Newsweek asked six experts whether they thought a bad outcome for Russia in the Ukraine war could spell the end for Putin. Most doubted that even losing the war would mean the end of Putin's presidency, but one said that such a result could at least weaken him.

Michael Ignatieff, history professor, Central European University, Budapest and Vienna

"I would not predict an overthrow of Putin any time soon. The wish becomes father to the thought and wishful thinking is a real enemy here.

"They [Russian troops] performed badly on the battlefield but they have an overwhelming preponderance of fire power. The Ukrainian resistance is heroic but let's not forget the brute facts.

"The Russians have one of the largest militaries in the world and I think that you can only assume given this preponderance of military strength, he will just blunder on and it will get more and more bloody and more and more painful."

"He has been in power for 23 years, he has absolute mastery of the security apparatus and the state."

David Rivera, assistant professor of government, Hamilton College, Clinton (NY)

"Putin's involuntary removal from office becomes likely only in two scenarios. The first is a humiliating rout of Russian forces and their retreat inside the borders of the Russian Federation.

"The second scenario is one in which Putin pushes ahead with a grinding war for months while international sanctions bring about a general collapse of the country's economy.

"If Putin opts to ignore voices recommending a change of course while the army and economy disintegrate around him, then he could just go the way of Russia's last Tsar, Nicholas II—that is, pressured or even forced to step down.

"While such an outcome seems very improbable at this point in time, Putin has been exceedingly overconfident in regard to both his knowledge and abilities for over a decade now."

Matt Qvortrup, political science professor, Coventry University, U.K.

"Putin will stay for now, but in a weaker position. Remember Saddam Hussein stayed on after he lost the First Gulf War.

"Dictators sometimes lose power—as the Junta did in Argentina in 1982 after the Falklands War. But, often they stay on, especially as they control the media and the state apparatus."

Michal Baranowski, Warsaw Office Director of the German Marshall Fund

"We are still more likely than not to see Russia's escalation in Ukraine and certainly the continued destruction of Ukrainian civilian lives.

"That said, if Russia is indeed considered a defeated power in this war, it would very likely mean the end of Vladimir Putin—as president, at the very least."

Peter Rutland, professor of Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, Wesleyan University (CT)

"I'm afraid that Putin will be unwilling to accept defeat or any compromise solution that could appear to be a defeat for Russia.

"So the war might drag on for some time. At a minimum, I think Russia will try to secure a land bridge between Russia and Crimea, that is why the fighting over Mariupol is so intense.

"Given the structure of political power in Russia I find it hard to imagine a scenario where Putin steps down from the presidency."

Ltc. William Astore, ex-professor of history at the US Air Force Academy (USAF)

"If the war persists for months and months with no victory in sight for Russian forces, it's possible Putin could lose his grip on power, leading to chaos in the region that could make matters worse.

"For if Russia becomes increasingly desperate, the nuclear option may become increasingly attractive. And that could very well lead to World War III."

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a government meeting via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on March 23, 2022. Putin is under pressure over his invasion of Ukraine, which is not going to plan, but there is doubt that he would be ousted from power any time soon. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/Getty Images