Chances of Putin being ousted by the Russian military in coup rising, expert says

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with government members via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, March 23, 2022.

The economy in Russia is on its knees, the military is struggling in its attempt to take down Ukraine, and morale is reportedly floundering.

Billionaires who ripped off Russian oil and gas industries are hurting as their assets are frozen. Putin’s inner circle, who planted their billions of fortune in Germany, France, Italy and the UK, are at risk of being sold to rebuild Ukraine.  

NATO estimates that up to 40,000 Russian troops have been killed, injured, captured or gone missing during the first month of the Kremlin’s war, an alliance official confirmed to NBC News.

All of the grievances that traditionally motivate a coup against a dictator are in place, according to an expert on authoritarian regimes.

The likelihood of Putin being overthrown is now “a lot higher than it was a month ago,” said Adam Casey, a postdoctoral fellow at the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies at the University of Michigan, during an interview with Insider.

Ukraine may be battling for its sovereignty, but could Russian President Vladimir Putin be fighting for his presidency if the invasion he declared goes badly for him?

Senator Lindsey Graham invoked the downfall of Julius Caesar in calling for the Russian leader’s assassination. “Is there a Brutus in Russia?” he said in a tweet which sparked condemnation from both Republicans and Democrats.

Away from any extra-judicial solution to Putin’s aggression, tough Western sanctions and Moscow’s failure to force a quick capitulation from Kyiv add to speculation over whether the Russian president faces as much of an existential battle as the country he invaded.

As the West strives to find an off-ramp for the Russian leader so he doesn’t increase the brutality of the war if things don’t go his way, the idea that growing casualties and economic hardship could spell the end for Putin appears so far unconvincing.

“There is almost no chance” that anyone from Putin’s inner circle “would take it upon himself to seek to remove Putin from office,” said David Rivera, assistant professor of government at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York.

Ian Johnson, assistant professor of military history at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, believes that “the possibility of a coup is a faint one, but not impossible.”

“Putin has surrounded himself with individuals he believes are incapable of succeeding him, but should the war go poorly over an extended period of time, Putin may face the prospect of removal,” he told Newsweek.

Could FSO turn against Putin?

The FSB might be able to prevent a coup plot from coming to fruition, Casey said, but the Federal Protective Service, or FSO, would protect Putin should an attempt to overthrow him take place.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was surrounded by so-called “Musketeers” — an elite unit of the FSO — on October 17, 2014.
Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters

The FSO is a federal government agency tasked with protecting Putin and several other high-ranking state officials. Casey said it is reminiscent of the “Praetorian Guard” — a military unit that served as the bodyguards and intelligence agents for the emperors of Ancient Rome. Estimates suggest that close to 20,000 uniformed FSO members are working to secure Putin’s safety.

Members of a special unit within the FSO, who call themselves “Musketeers,” serve as Putin’s bodyguards.

There is a plausible risk of people from the FSB or FSO turning on Putin, Casey said, but the Russian leader has structured these agencies to create a culture of mutual distrust to prevent successful coordination against him.

‘The intelligence agencies somewhat overlap in mandates,” Casey said. “So they sort of distrust and spy on each other as they also, obviously, perform their other intelligence functions.”

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