Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there has been one name that has stood out. Vladimir Putin. Russian President. Ukrainians, people the world over and even a certain section of the Russian population have condemned Putin’s actions of the invasion of Ukraine. Even the imposition of sanctions couldn’t deter him, as he has been ordering troops to expand their target areas. Now analysts are of the opinion that one misstep could actually have severe consequences when it comes to Putin’s reign. This article explores the many aspects of the problem and whether history has been kind to authoritarians.
What is the regime under Putin like?
The country has had an authoritarian regime with brief periods being democratic or totalitarian. Throughout Putin’s regime, the country and Government have been strengthened against any threats, thus fortifying it and ensuring it does not collapse in the face of calamity. During the regime of this Russian President, any aspect of the media or public that showed the slightest bit of dissent or opposition was silenced. Adam Casey, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan in an article to Vox, says “Putin has prepared for this eventuality for a long time, and has taken a lot of concerted actions to make sure he’s not vulnerable.”
Having taken all efforts to strengthen his regime, experts think Putin is in a safe space, but this does not change the fact that in the course of history, there have been autocrats who have lost their grip on power. How? Military coups are famous for the usurping of power in regimes through history where no other option was seen possible.
What is a military coup and is one possible while Putin reigns?
Simply put, a military coup translates to the seizure of a government and the powers it is wielding and this is done by a rebel group. Sen. Lindsey Graham, on his appearance on Fox News, went on to say “The only way this ends is for somebody in Russia to take this guy out,” implicating a military coup situation in Russia. Now to address three important questions, which are 1) What are the conditions that could make a coup succeed? 2) Can a coup situation work in Russia at the moment 3) If a coup were to happen, would it be easy? 4) Has Putin prepared for this situation
Conditions for a coup to happen
Naunihal Singh a world-leading scholar of military coups, in his book Seizing Power, finds that there are three conditions that are precursors for a coup to happen. A country being a low-income one, a country where the regime is neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic, and one where a coup has recently happened. Russia does not satisfy any of these.
Can a coup situation work in Russia?
Even though Russia does not satisfy the conditions for a coup to be seen, a 2017 study that surveyed civil wars found that the odds for a coup rise when there is conflict in a certain nation and when governments face stronger oppositions. The Russian Ukraine crisis has set the scene for this. The people of Russia have shown dissent and experts warn even officials might be on the opposing side.
If a coup were to happen would it be easy?
Naunihal Singh says to Vox that in the current crisis situation, there are in fact many opportunities for officials to discuss and strategise without being watched or observed. “There are now lots of good reasons for generals to be in a room with key players and even to evade surveillance by the state since they will want to evade NATO and US surveillance.”
Measures taken by Putin to avoid a coup
It does seem like Russian President Vladimir Putin had foreseen this situation, and thus, the closest people to him are those who share his nationalist sentiments and are in favour of the war. This does make it tough for a coup to take place as the dissent does not seem likely from the people in higher power in the Russian Government. Putin has also proofed his government against this by ensuring that the state security has been split into different groups and thus any dissent would require complex coordination between these groups who may not know or trust each other.
Adam Casey says to Vox, “The coordination dilemma ... is especially severe when you have multiple different intelligence agencies and ways of monitoring the military effectively, which the Russians do. There’s just a lot of different failsafe measures that Putin has built over the years that are oriented toward preventing a coup.”
The other alternative to a coup would be a revolution. We discuss if this is likely in Russia.
Is a revolution possible in Russia?
Analysts say that judging by the history of coups and revolutions, a revolution seems more likely in Russia. This is seen in Russia’s history. In the 20th century, two uprisings were seen by the Czars, the uprising in 1905, the revolution in 1917 that led to the birth of the Soviet Union and even the protests in the last month seen by the Russian people.
However, Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University says to the BBC that one “needs to get about 3.5 per cent of the population involved in protests to guarantee some kind of government concession” She and Maria Stephan say to Vox that “It is hard to organize sustained collective protest in Russia. Putin’s government has criminalized many forms of protests, and has shut down or restricted the activities of groups, movements, and media outlets perceived to be in opposition or associated with the West.”
In addition to this, Putin has also cracked down on social media outlets and broadcasting that puts out content in opposition to his views and has even promised to punish the spread of fake information by 15 years in jail. Another aspect that could bring about change is the participation of various hierarchies of the public, explains Chenoweth. “Symbolic protest is usually not enough to bring about change. What makes such movements succeed is the ability to create, facilitate, or precipitate shifts in the loyalty of the pillars of support, including military and security elites, state media, oligarchs, and Putin’s inner circle of political associates.”
Once it is clear what key Russian establishments and elite have to say about this war, the answer to the question of whether Putin will fall will be clearer.