Is Putin at Risk of Being Overthrown by a Coup?

Stylized Artist's Depiction of Shadowy Figures in Dark Coats and Dark Hats, One Carrying a Briefcase

(Window on Eurasia – Paul Goble – Staunton, April 28, 2014) Many in Russia and the West have speculated that the combination of Vladimir Putin’s policies against Ukraine, Moscow’s increasing isolation internationally, and deteriorating economic conditions at home will eventually lead to a Maidan-style challenge to his rule.

Vladimir Putin file photo

That is possible, of course, but a man identified as a former FSB officer and speaking on condition of anonymity suggests that there may be another and more immediate threat to the Kremlin leader: a coup by the siloviki and groups allied with them who believe that Putin’s policies are hurting not only the country but their personal interests (

“Everyone understands that there is simply no reason to fight with the entire world in the name of some absurd historical principles,” he says, adding that “everyone understands that the Soviet phobia of the FSB that the American enemy is close and will soon attack has lost its significance.”

Instead, he says, they recognize that “war in the 21st century more typically takes the form of economic blockades and information propaganda rather than guns and military technology.”

Such understanding is widespread, the purported ex-FSB officer says, but “the people of Russia are hardly likely to rise up in revolt.” On the other hand, it is quite possible that those close to Putin will. The billionaires around him see Putin’s policies as destroying their wealth, much of which is abroad, and they won’t support his isolating policies forever.

Moreover, he continues, “no one in Russia needs” those poor Ukrainian regions into which so much money will have to be poured at a time when “Russia itself is threatened with a deep economic crisis.” That crisis alone will reduce the wealth of the oligarchs, and Putin’s Ukrainian actions will accelerate that process.

The only “way out,” this individual says, is “the physical destruction of Putin or a repetition of the Ukrainian scenario.” There is no other way, given that in his view, the Kremlin leader has “really lost touch with reality” and won’t be able to hide Russia’s domestic problems for long by foreign aggression.

The unnamed individual provides no evidence for his suggestion beyond the logic of the situation, but such a scenario, one that would involve not simply or perhaps only the security services but the immediate entourage of Putin, is perhaps less unthinkable now than it once was, given the events of 1991 and 1993.

At the same time, if this supposed ex-FSB officer can see this possibility so too can the other ex-FSB officer who is now president. It is certain that he will take preemptive measures to protect himself, shifting or dismissing commanders among the siloviki and working to shore up his standing with the oligarchs.

Putin has taken a number of steps of this kind in recent weeks. The suggestion that he may face the risk of a coup could provide an important new way of evaluating them, even and perhaps especially if he survives in office.

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Kremlin and Saint Basil's File Photo