Russian President Vladimir Putin sacked 18 high-ranking security service types on Wednesday evening. The whole episode was done quietly with two simple announcements posted to the Kremlin’s website. Eleven people were named in the first declaration, all from various regional offices of Alexander Bastrykin’s Investigative Committee (background here).
The second fired group consisted of five officers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), the Deputy Head of the Federal Service for Drug Control [FSKN] of the city of St. Petersburg and Leningrad region, and Putin’s former Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo (short bio in English here).
Interestingly, the first decree was backdated 27 June 2014. Were these eleven individuals were discharged in late June, and Putin only now got round to signing the decree? If so, why?
One Belarusian news site posted the story and noted that a Putin press conference had been rumoured to take place Thursday night, but then was mysteriously cancelled. Putin’s Press Secretary, Dmitry Peskov, later denied that the meeting was set to take place at all. The website further speculated that the mass firing was connected to the Ukrainian security service’s earlier assertion that the shooting down of flight MH17 was an error, and the Russians had meant to shoot down a Russian Aeroflot plane as a pretext for a full-scale Russian invasion.
The theory of an attempted coup is, of course, making the rounds. Not one of the 18 people named in the two decrees was ranked under a Colonel. And Rushailo was well placed to implement such an endeavor. But a coup attempt seems unlikely mostly due to the late June date on the first decree, and the 6 weeks it took to officially implement it.
That being said, it is difficult to rule out the theory entirely. It is possible that the second decree consisted of individuals who were at least in discussions about the prospective coup. And the first group was just an internal cleaning up of Bastrykin’s Investigative Committee that had been in the works for some time.
Meanwhile, there have been more murmurings of discontent in the ranks. This past week, Deputy Economic Development Minister Belyakov resigned after publicly declaring on his Facebook page:
“I am ashamed of the decision to extend the moratorium on investing money from the national pension funds.”
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s spokeswoman responded:
“If you are very ashamed, then you know what to do… A political decision has been made. Now it must be fulfilled.”
Belyakov replied, writing,
“We no longer feel shame. It is dreadful.”
Former Finance Minister, Alexei Kudrin, later wrote an article in Kommersant supporting Belyakov’s position, and arguing that the move “threatens the long-term stability of government finances and will reduce investment”.
Alfa Bank wrote: “This move breaches the ‘social contract’ between the state and society to develop long-term private savings.”
The newly imposed food import ban is also part of the ‘social contract’ Putin implemented with Russia’s middle class, where holidays abroad, and imported foods were allowed in exchange for certain other liberties. And this is where the rebellion comes from. It will not come from the likes of oligarch Gennady Timchenko and Rosneft’s Igor Sechin, who will still be able to find their favorite pâté, and prosciutto on the grocery shelves [photo gallery of other allowed items here]. It is the so-called second and third tier bureaucrats who have suddenly had their holidays abroad cancelled, and their imported salmon removed from the shelves of their local shops that will feel the pinch.
Putin is slowly but surely chipping away at the social contract he implemented. If he continues to do so, we can surely expect more coup attempts and public statements of rebellion.