LJUBLJANA – Rumors are flying about veiled jockeying within Russia over who will replace President Vladimir Putin, now that his war of aggression in Ukraine has gone so disastrously wrong. Such a struggle cannot fail to expose the morbid pathologies of Russian politics. The key players are not organized political parties but rather gangs of oligarchs who preside over various informal nodes of power.
This explains why Russia’s most effective military force on the front line in Ukraine, the mercenary Wagner Group, is not even a part of the Russian army. Russia is now a land of warlords, something one generally associates with rogue and failed states. Its current and aspiring leaders are trafficking in fever dreams of battlefield glory. Implicit in this martial culture is a Hobbesian view of life as solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short – and increasingly cheap.