Coup Theories

The theory that a coup took place in the Kremlin during Putin’s 10-day disappearance earlier this month is picking up momentum, but there are two different narratives being told.  The first is from Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev.  In a recent interview Lebedev said that he fears the country has fallen into the clutches of “dark forces” who are acting behind Putin’s back.

Lebedev believes that Putin is likely to remain the main hope to stop these forces.  To do this… the West should stop trying to “isolate” Russia through sanctions that play into the hands of radical nationalists who are gaining influence.

“Putin is not Mugabe.  This is not North Korea,” said Lebedev.  He recalled the comparisons of Putin & Hitler, saying that it is better to compare Putin with Paul von Hindenburg, who was president of the German Reich from 1925-1934 and who appointed Hilter as Chancellor.  “This gives a completely different picture.”

The message here seems to be that we are stuck with Putin.  Let’s work together, or else… Or else Russia will just fall apart and become (more) fascist.

The second version being told is that former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov has taken the reigns and a slow transition of power is taking place.

Vladimir Golshev proposed this theory in a recent interview with Radio Svaboda.  In his view removing Putin officially at this time would harm Russia’s business interests, and the oligarchs specifically.  So it is better for the elite to keep Putin in play, but control the situation behind the scenes, he argues, and this is what is happening now.  And in this way, the elite can blame Putin for everything and disclaim responsibility for it later on.

This was shown, Golshev argues, in the docudrama last weekend on Russian television.

“The most striking thing about this is, of course, the film about Crimea, which was released at the moment we lost Putin…”

“…in principle, this film is a confession for a future Hague [trial], in which the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, first of all, assumes all responsibility for all decisions made in regard to Crimea, and secondly, to demonise himself…”

“He [Putin] says that he was ready to unleash a nuclear catastrophe on eastern Europe.  That is, he says things that harm him, and it is unlikely that he is doing it on his own.”

This was especially striking because Putin tends to distance himself from crises that take place.  Remember how Putin disappeared when the Kursk crisis happened in August 2000?  And later, when Larry King asked Putin in an interview, “what happened to the Kursk?”  Putin replied, “it sank.”  As if he were somehow completely disassociated from the incident, and had no power over how the government had reacted.

And this pattern continued throughout his first and second terms as President of Russia.  Masha Gessen called it ‘an illusion of helplessness’ in a 2005 article, saying:

“Putin’s manner is not what you would expect from a popular second-term president who has become used to ruling virtually by diktat. Instead, he sounds like a slightly disoriented bureaucrat: All of his [sentence] constructions are impersonal, and he goes to great lengths to avoid the first-person singular.”

And this has remained largely true in the decade since.  In Golshev’s view then Putin is now like Chernenko, with a junta running things behind the scenes, and waiting to pass the baton of leadership to a successor like Gorbachev.

He also compares Yevgeny Primakov to China’s Deng Xiaoping, an elder statesman operating behind the scenes.  At 85, Primakov is too old to replace Putin, but a successor must be found who is acceptable to all parties.

Golshev proposes a few options for successors to Putin: first, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who was not ‘involved the Ukrainian Crimean adventure’; second, he suggests former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin.  Both of these men, he says, ‘are excellent technical candidates’.  But Russia does not need technical candidates to guide the country out of the situation it currently finds itself in.  So it needs ‘a Russian Poroshenko’.  This being the case, the ideal candidate in Golshev’s eyes is former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

But he concedes that after removing Putin officially, there ‘will certainly be a transition period where everything will be done according to the Constitution’.  Therefore, of course, current Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev must take the lead.  And he is ‘also quite acceptable for the elite’.

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