From Republic.ru, Jan. 24, 2023, https://republic.ru/posts/106971. Complete text:
Power in Russia will change hands as a result of a [palace] coup.
This is 100% [reliable] info, as they say.
This is because only one power transfer scenario has been left in Russia, even though undemocratic regimes theoretically have several.
Autocracies can transfer power through hereditary succession: This is precisely how the Aliyev dynasty resolves the [power] transfer problem in Azerbaijan (as does the Kim family in North Korea). This also seems to be the hope of Belarussian dictator [Aleksandr] Lukashenko, who always takes his son Kolya with him wherever he goes, like a woman carrying her purse. However, in Russia, there is no question of the transfer of power from [President Vladimir] Putin to either Yekaterina Tikhonova or Maria Vorontsova [Putin’s purported daughters] (let alone to Alina Kabayeva [Putin’s purported girlfriend]). Power cannot be transferred by hereditary succession when a dictator does not publicly acknowledge even his legitimate children, let alone illegitimate ones.
Another option for an undemocratic transfer of power is intraparty rotation. It existed in China (the general secretary ruled for two elected terms and then a new general secretary was elected) until Comrade [President] Xi Jinping stopped that nonsense, becoming China’s perennial ruler, creating another power transfer problem in the bargain. In Russia, the intraparty rotation option is impossible for the amusing reason that Putin is not general secretary (chairman, etc.) of [the ruling party] United Russia, and furthermore is in fact nonpartisan.
The third option is a transfer of power based on a collegial [consensus] decision. It was by a [Soviet Union Communist Party] Politburo decision that [Yury] Andropov was appointed general secretary after [Leonid] Brezhnev’s death; [Konstantin] Chernenko, after Andropov’s death; [and Mikhail] Gorbachev, after Chernenko’s death. It was an interesting time – not because a five-year plan was fulfilled “in three coffins”1 but because, through collegiality, power was transferred three times in five years without a hitch. Collegiality was introduced after [Nikita] Khrushchev’s ouster in order to avoid arbitrary one-man rule, from which the elite of that time had suffered terribly. However, Putin’s rule is precisely that, with one man arbitrarily shuffling a deck of favorites whose exact names we do not know. There is no collegial rule in Russia today.
One, two, three – there are no more options.
We will leave off [talking] about elections and laws, or else we will die laughing, and we still have a life to live after Putin. By law, if the president becomes incapacitated, power is transferred to the head of government, i.e., to [Russian Prime Minister Mikhail] Mishustin, a person without a name and without any future, since he has neither bayonets, nor prisons, nor poisons behind him – nothing of what keeps Putin going and what would have to be reckoned with in the transfer of power. Nor will we [talk] about a popular uprising as an option. As Karl Jaspers wrote in [his book] “The Question of [German] Guilt”: “Once a dictatorship has been established, no liberation from within is possible.” In other words, an uprising would be possible after a plot against a dictator, not vice versa.
And if all options for the transfer of power are blocked or eliminated, all that is left is a conspiracy: to solve the problem in the shadows by means of force.
Of course, this brings up a very interesting question: When?
The answer is well known, albeit banal: when the risk of nonparticipation in a conspiracy outweighs the risk of participation in it.
This is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient one.
Because with the outbreak of the war [in Ukraine], the necessary conditions for a palace coup were created in Russia: The war meant that from that moment on, the position of the elites would begin to deteriorate irreversibly. And that is indeed the case. All things Russian have become toxic; revenues have fallen; [and] sanctions have expanded. Even those whose position has technically improved as a result of the war (for example, [Norilsk Nickel CEO] Vladimir Potanin) have lost all the same. Potanin has two grown-up sons, right? Well, granted, one of them lives in the US. But the other one, the older one, seems to be in Russia, and he is clearly of draft age. The war has opened up unique opportunities for blackmail.
However, the main threat that the war has posed to the elites is uncertainty. Maybe [this] conventional war will grow into a nuclear one. Maybe [partial] mobilization will become general. Maybe businesses will be requisitioned. Even the best-case scenario (no nuclear bomb, the cessation of hostilities, [and] the preservation of the status quo) would lead to the country’s quiet “Iranization” as it becomes increasingly caught up in the web of sanctions. [Sberbank head German] Gref, [Russian Defense Minister Sergei] Shoigu, [Russian Security Council deputy chairman Dmitry] Medvedev or even Patrushev the younger [i.e., [Russian Agriculture Minister Dmitry Patrushev, son of Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev] would hardly want to live in a country like Iran.
This is why some people (I, for one) hoped that in the first few days of the war, Putin would be kicked out of the Kremlin by his own [people]. Only a madman who had lost touch with reality – a madman who was not afraid of death because of his old age, and what’s more, an insensitive madman with no family or love, whose hope of going down in history is the only thing that makes him tick – could have wanted a war. There is [only] one such [madman] around. It is possible that there are also other, minor ones (for example, [writer and hard-right ideologue Aleksandr] Prokhanov or even big ones (for example, the elder Patrushev). But most members of Russia’s new elite are far from being mad.
Nevertheless, Putin averted the threat of a coup by his surprise decision [to invade Ukraine; see Vol. 74, No. 8, pp. 9‑13 – Trans.]. Recall the first several days of the war and the utter bewilderment of top officials, including the military brass. Potential plotters simply had no time for a conspiracy, and then it was too late: The blitzkrieg failed, and the war rolled on. The complete change of life became irreversible. Even worse, everyone has gradually accepted the new state of affairs, and the risks of involvement in a conspiracy have again outweighed the risks of noninvolvement.
[This brings up] the question: What needs to happen for new necessary conditions to be created for a coup? In other words, what events could create the risk of a new, mortal danger for the elite?
Logically, there might be two such events. The first would be Putin’s decision to use nuclear weapons after all. It does not matter whether [the weapons are] tactical or strategic. In response, 30 or 40 Western countries would become directly involved in combat operations. And while today a satisfactory outcome of the war for the West would be the restoration of the 2014 borders without interference in Russia’s domestic affairs or encroachments on its sovereignty, in that case everyone would settle for nothing less than an outcome analogous to the complete crushing of Hitler’s Germany.
Of course, no one has ever declared war on a nuclear power. But neither has a nuclear power singlehandedly fought half the world, which has its own nuclear bombs.
It is possible that as a result of an exchange of nuclear strikes, human civilization would cease to exist – at least in its present form. But this is in fact the very threat that is more terrible than participation in a conspiracy, because everything would be lost with the end of civilization. And since the path from pushing the [nuclear] button to [launching] a nuclear strike on Washington consists of many segments and people, who also want to live, the conspirators’ chances are pretty good.
Still, I do not really believe in this situation. Here is why.
Another scenario – a postmortem (or antemortem) coup – is more likely. Just imagine: The war has been dragging on for years. The battle for Bakhmut, a city which has been destroyed, continues with varying degrees of success. “Cargo 200” [Russian military term for dead bodies – Trans.] and “Cargo 300” [wounded soldiers] are being continuously delivered not only to the provinces but also to Moscow. Putin’s health is visibly deteriorating. One day, for instance, he loses consciousness, [and] doctors diagnose something inoperable and rapidly progressing. As they say, there is no way you can hide a tumor in a CT scanner. From that moment on, no one would be concerned about the half-corpse, but everyone would be greatly concerned about their own survival.
There would be many actors – from [Chechen leader Ramzan] Kadyrov (who understands that without Putin, he is finished – and not only financially) to [Kremlin insider Yevgeny] Prigozhin (who is in the same situation). Active trading in favors would begin, including, for example, a high-profile shootout between the Federal Protection Service and the [4th Guards] Kantemirovskaya [Tank] Division. Then a Cheyne-Stokes respiration report would come, then Mishustin’s resignation, [and] a joint statement by the government and the Security Council. And [there would be] a new face, which is all over the media even now and which we are not taking into consideration, just as [Soviet leader Joseph] Stalin did not take into consideration the clown Khrushchev, and as Khrushchev [ignored] the nice guy Brezhnev.
A coup will take place. But most likely, several coups will begin to compete simultaneously or consecutively until the most effective one prevails (possibly because of [its] simplicity and brutality).
There is only one good thing about this scenario: The ongoing war in Ukraine will not grow into a nuclear one.
And not because Putin understands the power of the retaliatory strike he would be up against (he might understand this, or he might even be ready for a universal funeral pyre), but because Putin understands that once the button is pressed, the chances are pretty good that the missile would not fly – as are the chances that his own entourage would wring his neck after that.
1[This is a pun on the Russian words gróba (coffins) and góda (years), in reference to the Soviet-era slogan pyatiletku za tri goda, which means “[Let’s fulfill] the five-year plan in three years!” – Trans.]