Billionaire financier George Soros said on Thursday that if Russia was defeated in the Ukraine war it would result in the dissolution of what he called the ‘Russian empire,’ something he said would be greeted by former Soviet republics.

Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine has triggered one of the deadliest European conflicts since World War Two and the biggest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Soros said the United States would support Ukraine, but that President Joe Biden had warned Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy that there were limits and that World War Three had to be avoided. Soros didn’t disclose the source of his information.

A hedge fund manager turned philanthropist, Soros said that the Russian army was badly led, ill equipped and demoralised, but that President Vladimir Putin had turned to the Wagner mercenary group to thwart the Ukrainian military.

“The countries of the former Soviet Union can hardly wait to see the Russians defeated in Ukraine because they want to assert their independence,” Soros told the Munich Security Conference, according a text of his speech released by his office.

“This means that a Ukrainian victory would result in the dissolution of the Russian empire. Russia would no longer pose a threat to Europe and the world,” he said. “That would be a big change for the better.”

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the nuclear-armed superpower split into 15 independent republics, though Russia remained by far the most powerful of them and the holder of the world’s biggest nuclear arsenal.

Putin casts the war in Ukraine as an existential battle with an aggressive and arrogant West, and has said that Russia will use all available means to protect itself and its people against any attack.

‘REGIME CHANGE’

The United States has denied Kremlin claims that it wants to destroy Russia, the world’s biggest commodities producer.

Soros said that Putin’s bet on the Wagner mercenary group, founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, appeared to have worked in the short term.

“The gamble worked,” Soros said. “Ukraine faced a strategic choice: either get bogged down in holding Wagner at bay or hand Russia a propaganda victory and preserve its limited resources for a counterattack.”

Ukraine, he said, had a narrow window of opportunity in Spring once it got the weapons promised by the West.

On China, Soros said that President Xi Jinping’s ‘zero-COVID’ strategy had shaken trust in the Communist Party.

“The current situation fulfills all the preconditions for regime change or revolution,” Soros said of China. “But this is only the beginning of an opaque process, whose repercussions will be felt over a longer period of time.”

“In the short term Xi is likely to remain in power because he is in firm control of all the instruments of repression,” Soros said.

“But I am convinced that Xi will not remain in office for life, and while he is in office, China will not become the dominant military and political force that Xi is aiming for.”

Soros casts Russia, by far the world’s biggest country by territory, and China, the world’s second largest economy, as the leading members of a group of ascendant “closed societies” where the individual is subservient to the state.