Churchill’s words are still quoted regularly whenever the topic of Russia comes up; pundits love to portray Russia as an inscrutable and menacing land that plays by its own rules.
But those same critics tend to forget the second half of Churchill’s famous comment: “… but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”
With that in mind, this special issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists explores some of the elements that make up the Russian national interest, whether it be Russia’s economy, the thinking of ordinary Russians, the vulnerabilities of its oligarchs, or Putin’s mindset concerning NATO and the West.
Crucially, this issue of the magazine goes into who and what is likely to follow, once Putin is gone. For at some point, every human being dies, and Putin will go away, sooner or later—which forms the basic premise of the piece titled “After Putin—What?” Written by Vladislav Zubok, a professor of international history at the London School of Economics and author of the book Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union, this essay raises the question of whether there are any realistic scenarios for what happens once Putin does depart the scene. Will this heavily armed superpower collapse after Putin? Or will Putin’s successor turn to the West with a plea for peace and engage the country in reforms and modernization? Or has Putin “baked in” an immutable course for the future, whoever happens to run the country after he is gone?