Putin's no mastermind -- he’s barely clinging to power to avoid Saddam Hussein’s fate: reporter
Russian President Vladimir Putin (Screen cap).

Vladimir Putin made a risky bet to interfere in the U.S. election -- and it paid off handsomely -- but reporter Julia Ioffe says the Russian president is playing blackjack rather than geopolitical chess.

Ioffe, a Russian-American reporter for The Atlantic, discussed her latest cover story on Putin's strategy and motives Monday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

"I think what people don't understand in America, when they talk about Putin or envision Putin as this kind of James Bond-esque villain, the super mastermind who knows everything, can plan everything, is at the end of the day, he's kind of a tin-pot dictator who is just trying to stay in power for another year," Ioffe said.

"Because once he falls from power, it's unclear what happens to him," she added. "Does he get killed like Muammar Gaddafi? Does he get put on trial like Saddam Hussein? What happens to him? What happens to the people around him who have made a killing on government contracts and other corrupt dealings? What happens to them? The point is to stay in power as long as he can, and a lot of it is a kind of bubble gum and scotch tape operation. What looks to us like he's a super master mind? Not the case."

Putin had pulled off risky but spectacularly successful hack of the 2016 U.S. presidential election on just a $200 million budget, Ioffe said, but she said his position was more vulnerable in Russia than most Americans realized.

"He's done a really good job clearing the field of any potential rivals for the past nearly two decades he's been in power," Ioffe said. "One of the main reasons he's popular, actually, is that nobody can imagine an alternative to Vladimir Putin. There hasn't been an alternative to Vladimir Putin for 18 years. When that's the basis of your popularity, that's not great."

Russians aren't sure what to think about reports that Putin tipped the election to President Donald Trump, she said.

"The Russians are kind of -- they don't know what to do with this," Ioffe said. "They'd like to take credit, they'd like to be the super power that Americans portray them to be. I mean, just like the Russians think the State Department is behind everything regardless of bureaucracy and limited funding, there's no bigger fan of Russian power -- nobody thinks Russia's stronger than the Americans. We're kind of part of Putin's cult of personality."