Behind the Book
In recent years, a number of extremely dangerous world leaders have managed to increase their already considerable power. Some are busy tightening their grip on their countries like Recep Erdogan in Turkey or President Xi Jinping in China. Others, like Kim Jong-un in North Korea, already have uncontested control but are increasing their military capability. And finally, in a class by himself, is Vladimir Putin—a man who combines the dominance of the Kims with the military might of China.
For a while, I’ve been pondering what would happen if a modern dictator like Putin became physically or mentally ill. How far would he go to prevent the loss of his position? Would anyone in his inner circle have the courage to push back? And what would the rest of the world risk to rein him in?
Many of today’s dictators can’t just step down and trust that their replacement will protect them from the enemies they’ve made. Losing their edge—even for a moment—can be a matter of life or death. One moment of weakness and they could end up like Nicolae Ceausescu or Saddam Hussein.
Of all the world’s dictators, Vladimir Putin worries me the most. Credible reports suggest that he became obsessed with the gruesome videos of Muammar Gaddafi’s death, watching them over and over again. The older he gets, the more consumed he becomes with the idea that his reign might end with his body being dragged through the streets of Moscow.
With Putin as my inspiration, I started to scheme. If he became gravely ill, how would he continue to prevent his political opponents from rising up? How could he impede the foreign intelligence agencies looking to take advantage of his weakness? Who could he trust to protect him as he is transformed from de facto czar to wounded animal?
In my mind, there’s nothing someone like Vladimir Putin wouldn’t do to maintain his position—murder every Russian politician not loyal to him, go to war with America and NATO, or even use his nuclear arsenal.
Facing death on multiple fronts, he’d have nothing to lose.