Zelensky: If Putin Suddenly Dies, ‘There Would Be No War’

Volodymyr Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky predicted in an interview published Monday that, should Russian leader Vladimir Putin suddenly die, the Russian invasion of his country would abruptly end, as the Russian state would collapse and not have resources to continue.

Zelensky made the prediction in response to a question from David Letterman, who traveled to Kyiv to interview Zelensky for his Netflix series My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. Letterman explicitly asked how the war effort would continue without Putin, who Zelensky has held personally responsible for the war.

Russia invaded Ukraine under Putin in 2014, seizing its Crimean Peninsula and fighting a proxy war using separatists sympathetic to Moscow in the eastern Donbass regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. That war precedes Zelensky’s rise to the presidency by five years; Zelensky took office as the “pro-Russian” candidate in the 2019 presidential election after a lengthy career in comic acting.

Putin greatly escalated the geographic scale of the war in February, announcing a “special military operation” to oust Zelensky and his allegedly “Nazi” government. Putin claimed that Zelensky, despite winning an election that the opposition did not denounce as unfree or unfair in 2019, was an illegitimate head of state because of the events that ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Yanukovych was succeeded by the man Zelensky defeated in the 2019 election, Petro Poroshenko.

Putin also claimed that Ukraine did not exist as a legitimate country, had “no tradition” of sovereignty, and was “completely created by Russia.”

The “special military operation” announcement preceded the open presence of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil and the “annexation” of four more regions: Luhansk and Donetsk, and the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

Letterman reportedly interviewed Zelensky for his Netflix program in October, the same month that Zelensky issued a presidential decree branding any talks with Putin himself “impossible” and demanding Russia replace its president before any further negotiations.

Letterman asked Zelensky if he thought that the Russian people believed and supported Putin.

“Unfortunately, we have to state that quite a large percentage of people believe him [Putin],” the Ukrainian president said, blaming their “cowardice” in the face of war.

“They are aware of the reality but they are just afraid,” he lamented.

Letterman then asked about the influence Putin as a solitary figure has on the war.

“Let’s just say that Putin got a really bad cold and died,” Letterman suggested, “or accidentally fell out a window and died, would this [the invasion] continue?”

The reference to windows appeared to be a nod to the many suspicious deaths of political, business, and medical leaders by “falling” out of windows that have occurred in Russia in the past five years.

“No. There would be no war,” Zelensky responded. “There wouldn’t be. The authoritarian regime is dangerous as it poses great risks. Because you can’t allow just one person to have total control over everything.”

“That’s why when such a person is gone, institutions come to a halt,” he continued. “That’s what happened back in the Soviet Union. Everything collapsed. And that’s why I think if he’s gone, it will be hard for them. They will have to deal with their internal policy rather than foreign issues.”

Zelensky appeared to be referring to the fragility of the Russian regime, not necessarily Putin’s ability or skill at controlling it. Zelensky has nonetheless had an acrimonious relationship with Putin since he came into the presidency, walking out of a four-way talk with the Russian leader in 2019 as the only bitterly unsatisfied participant. In December of that year, the leaders of Germany and France chaperoned a meeting between Zelensky and Putin under a formal known then as the “Normandy Four.” French President Emmanuel Macron, then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Putin all said publicly they believed the talks led to some progress, and that open communication between the parties was in itself a positive step.

“Look, it’s very difficult to negotiate [with Putin], but today there were moments when we agreed on something, on certain things,” a frustrated Zelensky said after the meeting. “That’s because he dissects every question into details … and then we begin to even consider every word. So yes, this is difficult.”

“Many questions were tackled, and my counterparts have said it is a very good result for a first meeting. But I will be honest — it is very little, I wanted to resolve a larger number of problems,” he admitted.

Zelensky has since resorted to addressing the Russian people directly, rather than speaking to Putin. In a nationally televised address directed to Russians in February, Zelensky countered accusations of “Nazism,” noting his ancestors had fought the Nazis (Zelensky is Jewish, which he did not directly mention in that speech).

“They tell you that we’re Nazis. But how can a people that lost eight million lives to defeat the Nazis support Nazism? How can I be a Nazi?” Zelensky said at the time. “Say it to my grandfather, who fought in World War II as a Soviet infantryman and died a colonel in an independent Ukraine.”

“If Russia’s leadership does not want to meet us across the table for the sake of peace, perhaps it will sit at that table with you,” he concluded.

Zelensky also stated on several occasions that he was open to some negotiations with the Russian government prior to his decree banning talks with Putin in October.

In remarks on Monday to the G7 member states, Zelensky urged the Russian government to withdraw all its troops from Ukraine by Christmas, a request Moscow is unlikely to fill.

“This is the time for normal people to think about peace, not aggression. I suggest Russia to at least try to prove that it is capable of abandoning the aggression,” Zelensky said. “It would be right to start the withdrawal of Russian troops from the internationally recognized territory of Ukraine this Christmas. If Russia withdraws its troops from Ukraine, it will ensure a lasting cessation of hostilities.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.