Rumors that Russian President Vladimir Putin would be ousted in an imminent coup have been percolating as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drags on. The growing unpopularity of the war (and the staggering death toll) paired with a sinking economy, have helped to fuel the idea that Putin would be forcefully removed from power.
The rumors received a boost earlier this year when Abbas Gallyamov, a former speechwriter for Putin who is now a political commentator, told CNN that a coup was possible.
“The Russian economy is deteriorating,” Gallyamov said in an interview. “The war is lost. There are more and more dead bodies returning to Russia, so Russians will be coming across more difficulties and they’ll be trying to find explanation why this is happening, looking around to the political process and they’ll be answering themselves: ‘Well, this is because our country is governed by an old tyrant, an old dictator.”
And in Gallyamov’s view, due to the compounding circumstances “a military coup will become possible.”
“So in one year when the political situation changes and there’s a really hated unpopular president at the head of the country and the war is really unpopular, and they need to shed blood for this, at this moment, a coup becomes a real possibility,” Gallyamov said.
Ukraine invasion has gone horribly for Russia
Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has not gone well. Aside from the suffering inflicted upon Ukraine, Russia has also unleashed a set of corollary problems upon itself. In military, economic, and geopolitical terms, the invasion has degraded Russia’s standing. “The war has badly damaged Russia’s military and tarnished its reputation, disrupted the economy, and profoundly altered the geopolitical picture facing Moscow in Europe,” Steven Pifer wrote for Brookings Institute.
Russia had invaded Ukraine with hopes of forcing an immediate capitulation. But Russian failures (plus intense Ukrainian resistance) has turned the conflict into a war of attrition featuring the most vicious fighting on the European continent since World War II.
The conflict has resulted in significant casualties on the Russian side – perhaps as many as a quarter-of-a-million so far, with no end to the conflict in sight. Similarly, Russian equipment has been decimated. Estimates hold that Russia has lost upwards of 9,000 fighting vehicles (i.e. tanks, armored personnel carriers, etc.).
And Russia’s aggression has resulted in international condemnation, which has manifested itself in economic sanctions. The result: Russia’s economy has been pushed into recession.
Aside from the material damage Russia has incurred, Russia has also ruined its reputation, becoming a pariah within the international community. “It will take years, if not decades, to overcome the enmity toward Russia and Russians engendered by the war,” Pifer wrote.
Understandably, given the calamitous outcome of the invasion so far, the climate has become ripe for coup speculation. But a coup still seems unlikely – especially considering that Putin is aware of the prospect. Last year, Putin removed over 100 Federal Security Bureau agents to send a “very strong message” to those who opposed war in Ukraine. Similarly, Putin placed the former leader of the Russian Fifth Service under house arrest. You can expect Putin to continue taking steps to make a coup less likely.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.