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Are We Seeing Putin’s Swan Song … Russian Style?

Are We Seeing Putin’s Swan Song … Russian Style?

When it comes to autocratic nations like China, North Korea … and Russia, intelligence analysts often have to interpret subtle changes in the norms.  What does it mean when some top official is no longer seen in public or has been photoshopped out of official pictures?  What do rumors mean?

Just a month ago, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin was seen as having a firm grip on power.  There were no questions being raised about his health.  He had – by edict – shut down all quasi-independent news sources.  He even made it illegal to disagree with his war propaganda.  He extended the jail term of his chief rival.  He has essentially ended demonstrations against his regime and war with brutal arrests and the imposition of Draconian jail terms for merely protesting.  He put the “Butcher of Syria” at the head of his war on Ukraine.

The main western theory was that Putin is firmly in charge – and will be so for the foreseeable future.  In past commentaries, I had written about the need to take out Putin – and I did not put any exceptions on the list of methods.  But there was the conundrum.  Virtually every western voice agreed that Putin had to go.  Even President Biden said as much out loud.  But, virtually every western voice did not say how it would be possible.  As in the old song, the “irresistible force” was up against the “immovable object.”  And as the song concluded, “something has to give.”

There are now signs that something has in the case of Putin.

One of the options I and most other pundits and analysts laid out for the removal of Putin was an internal coup.  It is based on the theory that those around Putin would recognize the danger of his madness and eventually be forced to take action.  The situation was not unlike failed attempts to kill Hitler orchestrated by some of his top military advisors.

In the past couple of weeks, there have been rumors questioning the invincibility of Putin.  Initially, it was about his health.  There were whispers about cancer, leukemia, and Parkinson’s Disease.  Then there was talk about surgery.  Within the rumors was the name of the man who would hold the reigns of power while Putin was under anesthesia – a guy potentially more dangerous than Putin, security chief Nikolai Patrushev.

About that time, I began to wonder and speculate if this was the lead to an eventually report that Putin did not survive his surgery.  That is how those things happen in secretive Moscow. 

And now something even curious has occurred – something that cast even a darker cloud over the future – and possibly the life expectancy – of the Madman of Moscow.

Former Col. Mikhail Khodaryonok – a popular media defense analyst – was a panelist on the tightly controlled airwaves.   His comments were offered up at a time when we have been led to believe that nothing appears in the state-controlled news media without the approval of Putin – and certainly nothing that pushes back against his war policies and propaganda — nothing that tells the truth about the war.  Such talk supposedly results in jail time.

Khodaryonok made statements in direct opposition to Putin’s propaganda.  He said that “The main deficiency of our military-political position is that we are in full geopolitical isolation, and however much we would hate to admit this, virtually the entire world is against us.”

Referring to Putin’s propaganda claims that the Ukrainian military is suffering low morale, Khodaryonok countered by referring to the official version as “information tranquilizers” and said, “All of that (low Ukrainian morale), put mildly, is false.”

Khodaryonok pulled the rug out from under Putin’s narrative that Ukraine is not an independent nation, but part of Russia’s populated Russian-speaking people who want to be reunited with the Motherland.  Their desires are being thwarted by an illegitimate Nazi Regime.  That was not Khodaryonok’s take on the situation.  He said the Ukrainians were “fighting for their country.”

Khodaryonok is not the only voice to be piercing the Putin propaganda.  Separatist Commander Igor Girkin reacted to Russia’s failing effort to take over Ukraine by blasting Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu in the strongest terms.  Girkin said, “I directly accuse Sergei Shoigu of, at minimum, criminal negligence.   I have no grounds to accuse him of treason, but I would suspect it.”  Shogiu has since dropped from the public eye – and is now said to have had “a massive heart attack.”

The use of the term “swan song” in the headline was not a casual selection. Russia has an unusual history of having Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” used as a code for the Russian people.  The message could indicate a change in leadership or even the death of a leader.  It could indicate opposition to a leader.  It all depends on which of several versions of “Swan Lake” is performed.  A signal could be the position of the ballerina’s foot.  

A much longer explanation is contained in an online article in Newsweek by Brynn Shiovitz entitled. “Is Putin Dead? Pay Attention When Russia Starts Broadcasting ‘Swan Lake’.”  In the article, Brynn writes:

The airing of the Soviet recording of the ballet made NBC’s nightly news … leaving many Americans puzzled by the telecast of old Swan Lake footage during dead airtime. But TV Rain’s gesture was perfectly legible to Russians. Symbolizing much more than nostalgia, it was the latest in over a half-century of Russian and Soviet media utilizing the ballet as an indication of crisis—and even leadership change.”

In view of the overwhelming world reaction, the criticisms from within the Kremlin, and the use of “Swan Lake” to fill in media airtime – perhaps Putin is looking for an exit ramp or has been pushed off on one.  

The pugnacious and acerbic dictator seems to have softened his jingoistic propaganda rhetoric – at least a bit.  He has flipped from threatening a severe response if Finland and Sweden joined NATO to passive acceptance.  For the moment, he does not seem to be escalating his war effort.  The civilians of Mariupol have been rescued and the soldiers part of a negotiated prisoner exchange.  He told leaders of a few of his puppet nations that he now has “no problem” with Finland and Sweden joining NATO, as long as there are no nuclear weapons stationed in the Nordic nations.

With events like this swirling around Putin, we may next see him trying out as the main character in “Where’s Waldo.”   Stay tuned.

So, there ‘tis.

About The Author

Larry Horist

So,there‘tis… The opinions, perspectives and analyses of Larry Horist Larry Horist is a businessman, conservative writer and political strategist with an extensive background in economics and public policy. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman. He has served as a consultant to the Nixon White House and travelled the country as a spokesman for President Reagan’s economic reforms. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress. Horist has lectured and taught courses at numerous colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northwestern, DePaul universities, Hope College and his alma mater, Knox College. He has been a guest on hundreds of public affairs talk shows, and hosted his own program, “Chicago In Sight,” on WIND radio. Horist was a one-time candidate for mayor of Chicago and served as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago, where he led a successful two-year campaign to save the historic Chicago Theatre from the wrecking ball. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He is praised by readers for his style, substance and sense of humor. According to one reader, Horist is the “new Charles Krauthammer.” He is actively semi-retired in Boca Raton, Florida where he devotes his time to writing. So, there ‘tis is Horist’s signature sign off.


  1. Ben

    “Hey Lucy, I thin you got some spaining to do.”

    Do you still want to drop the nukes on them and go for WWIII? Shouldn’t we stomp the dog’s neck while he’s down?

    If this happens, how much crow do you eat re: Biden and NATO’s response to not enter the engagement?

    You didn’t even mention the dead oligarchs….lots of em.

    • DaVe

      Nuke ‘em

    • Chipper

      If Biden was smart on the Ukrainian situation, it was smart by default. The man doesn’t even remember how to wipe his arse so you idiots lick it for him

  2. larry Horist

    Bad Ben. What are your responding to? Never proposed dropping nukes on anyone. I think the war is still going on. And I still believe if the US and NATO called Putin’s bluff, the war would be over — or maybe not even started. And if Putin wants to knock off oligarchs, that is an internal problem. This commentary was speculation about Putin’ health and safety. Apparently reading comprehension is not your strong suit.

    • ben

      Lame Larry: you are such a turd sometimes.. I was just funnin ya. Whattta i need: a smiley face to tip you off? No, you never went Dr. Strangelove on them yelling “drop the big one.” You just called for WAR with a nuclear state that put a nuclear line in the sane because you ain’t afraid of no nukes. And I questioned whether you still felt that way. I guess I could have phrased it: Larry, are you still calling for World War III that probably would include nuclear annihilation of civilization. It’s a whole less funny and lighthearted, but still —- the freakin question stands and seems damned appropriate given your tome and tone.

      Judge, I wish to proceed in that…..there will be a connection to Larry’s conspicuous compassionless crime….You see, with Putin, everything he does is all tied together in a big bag of shit……oligarch’s die just before his surgery……lots of them… may say given Putin’s health maybe he was covering his ass by cleaning house…..and Putin may never had gotten sick if it wasn’t for the sanctions killing his daily Starbucks Cinnamon Roll Frappuccino® Blended Coffee…..I believe these connections prove Larry’s callous creepy crime of lack of humor in the first degree. Judge, I would ask you to throw your book at him, but I think it’s Florida and they all have been burned for having blackletter laws in them.

      Did you ever contemplate that?

      • larry Horist

        Bad Ben. If that is your level of humor, I hope you were not planning on a career in stand-up. And you still do not get it right. I was all for ending it quickly without nukes and no World War III scenario. I assume you must be old enough to have been influenced by all those end-of-the-work atomic war movies of the 1950s and 1960s.

        • Ben

          You know I was pretty sure that would your response re humor, low hanging fruit. I am sure you believe its all my fault for not being funny. Nothing on your side for being devoid of humor; after all, you are perfect in your own mind.

          Re: your war talk, nope I’ll stick with what I said you said. Quotes be coming next. You recommended a path with a pretty high potential of WWIII at a nuclear level but discounted Putin actually doing it or that it might destroy civilization. That’s a foolish and dangerous gamble IMO.

          • larry Horist

            Bad Ben …. You STILL do not get it. I saw virtually no chance of wind up in WW III if we engaged in defense of Ukraine early on. Frankly, I think if we told Putin that if he invade he would likely have to face the United States, NATO and others. If he still invaded, we put in a no-fly zone. We would make it clear that were are not declaring war on Russia but will use military to defend Ukrainian borders. You can stick with what “your said I said,” but I will stick to what I actually said — leaving you shadow boxing with the Larry Horist of your imagination.

          • Ben

            Lame Larry:

            One of your submissions about Ukraine was entitled: “WAR WITH RUSSIA SEEMS INEVITABLE, IF THE WEST IS TO WIN.” That sure seems like you are saying it’s inevitable to have war with Russia. And you think War between two nuclear states, facing each other and not by proxy, will be without nukes. Just not sure what gentlemanly war rules you live by. I, for one, do not recommend being a gentleman in war.

            Later in that article, Larry says: “War with Russia seems inevitable because Putin has shown a willingness and ability to escalate his genocidal war against the Ukrainian people no matter how much the western response creeps short of boots on the ground. AND …Putin has a LOT more escalating possibilities – more than the nuclear arsenal” which seems to sort of admit that nuclear is a possibility, in Larry’s mind and words.

            In another article, Larry says: “Biden’s fourth mistake was allowing Putin’s threat of using nuclear weapons to be a deterrence to any military action by the United States and NATO. Biden threatens ineffective sanctions that do not dissuade Putin — and then he takes Putin’s threats seriously enough to thwart an effective American and NATO response.” Again he seems to know about the nuclear threat even saying Biden’s actions are being taken because of it. Larry’s response to Putin, in his words: “Cowing to Putin because he has nuclear weapons is ass backwards. The free world should take down Putin BECAUSE he has nuclear weapons. And never mind his empty threats.”

            So there it tis. Larry knows nukes, he knows Putin’s intentions, he wants to take down Putin and feels nuclear is an empty threat so “damn the men and fire those torpedo’s.” In his own words that he now seems to say mean something beyond what they say. I think I have shown that you talked about nukes, talked about war, but live in some sort of fantasy land where we all survive a nuclear WWIII level holocaust. I prefer The Greatest Generation’s “never again.” Larry feels Trumpian strategy is better, that Trumpian bullies are taken seriously. NK never did. Iran never did. And neither did Putin’s Russia. They all just played him.

            We will see what the future holds. I am glad we did not send our kids in to die for Ukraine. I am glad we are still helping.

          • larry Horist

            Bad Ben ….that was along response to prove that you have been wrong why you claim I want nuclear war. You refuted your own lie. Me … and a lot of the folks at the Pentagon have said that they do not believe Putin would use nukes under any circumstances. You did your research and proved that in all those columns, I never believed there would be a nuclear World War III. You are too easily intimidated. You cower so bullies can win.

  3. GRT

    I like that W Bush finally admitted that the invasion of Iraq was wholly unjustified. It’s about time.

    Larry, Joe is gunna be really upset when he reads this article. According to the Russian asset here at PBP, Putin already won.

    • larry Horist

      GRT … I assume you are talking about Bush’s unfortunate gaffe in a recent speech. Just want to clarify that you are not being serious.

      • War crimes

        Gaff? I’d call it a Freudian confession. At least Dubya and I are finally on the same page.

      • Got WMDs?

        Larry, I’m not much a a kidder… you kinda learn that in the military. I’m very serious.
        You call it a gaff, most of the world called it what it is, a confession. Hundreds of thousands died because Dubya wanted revenge for his daddy.

    • Judd

      George W Bush was right. Several countries were reporting that Sadam had weapons. And I believe that he did. At least we are rid of that son of a bitch.

        • Ben

          I have some roundup. Does that mean I have a bio-wmd?

          Yellowcake is not a bomb and it’s certainly not a delivery system. It’s a component, not a weapon.

          Wonder where it is? Did they actually find it ?

      • No WMDs

        Yes, we got rid of that SOB, to the tune of 4,500 American lives. If that seems like a good deal to you, the rest of the world would like to have a word with you.

        Haven’t seen any evidence of WMDs , and even if there were, was it worth Larry’s grandson?

        • frank stetson

          I believe Larry’s grandson, God rest his soul, while the rest of us should honor him for his sacrifice, bless him for his service, was in Afghanistan, not exactly a WMD mission. The mission started sound until we got lost in the quagmire of time, politics, and other world conflicts. My thoughts: post Bush, they all dropped the ball on this one. Service is service, we got Bin Loser, and Larry’s family deserves the credit for that.

          Myself, obviously thought Bush an idiot, puppet master Cheney to rule the day, but always felt God helped us choose the right guys for the job at hand. Yes, his Iraq foray was some weird Daddy-complex sort of thing, weird considering I can’t imagine his Dad going in, but there it is.

          Today, I feel G Bush Sr is a great President, making super hard choices at the cost of his political future. My bad for thinking elsewise in the beginning.. Jr, well, there too I have softened over time but still feel post 9/11 and the initial response, we went down hill quickly. BUT —– he had integrity, honor, and patriotism, just a little slow in the head.

          If it were Trump vs. either Bush — easy choice of Bush for me. And Bush Sr, I might even go for against a Biden or H. Clinton. Just not an Obama or W. Clinton, one of the best Presidents ever, except I pull a Larry on his personality perversions.

          • UnjuStified invasion of iraq

            Frank, most of the time we are one the same page. But to honor an invader… even one that thought he was honoring his own Country, is condoning war crimes made by his leader.
            My son has a pro military friend that is a trumpet .. he never served, even though he could have. He cursed Iraqis for killing so many Americans. I asked, as we sat around the camp fire, you have 3 adult men ( 2 served, 1 didn’t) if Iraq unjustly invaded us and killed our friends, would you sit by and watch? Or would you attack the invaders?
            Unfortunately, he got upset and left.

  4. Tom

    Larry, I am impressed with your knowledge of ballet. Is it possible that this post is a “Larry Swan Song” from your original position of Biden, NATO, and not going in guns a’blazing to save democracy???

    • larry Horist

      Tom … I think the jury is still out regarding what will be needed to defeat Putin. Putin’s war is still hitting the world economy and there is a serious food crisis on the horizon. Unless we open a sea lane into Odessa, there will be a lot of starvation in Africa and the Middle East. This year’s essential Ukraine crops are either stolen, destroyed or limited planting. He is also disrupting the supply chain … so we will have more shortages in the coming weeks .. months. Putin needs to be stopped and quickly.