Regime change? Nuclear strike? What next in Russia?

Ukraine


Fig. 1. “The atomic cloud over Nagasaki 1945.” Photograph from Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Overseas Operations Branch, New York Office, News and Features Bureau, (12/17/1942 – 09/15/1945), by Charles Levy, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

A report in the Washington Post makes the reaction in Russia to Vladimir Putin’s not-so-partial mobilization seem even more extreme today[1] than yesterday and before.[2] It surely has not escaped the Kremlin’s notice, either of Putin or of his underlings. If any of the latter are ambitious, I think we now have enough smoke to say there’s a fire, and yes, I’m wondering if a coup of some sort might be in the offing.

It’s worth reviewing my update of April 20:

A coup[3] or popular uprising[4] remain wildly improbable.[5] The sense I have is that those expressing doubts, privately, for fear of repercussions,[6] are not among the hard-liners Vladimir Putin has surrounded himself with.[7] They are not in a position to seize power.

Almost eight weeks after Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine, with military losses mounting and Russia facing unprecedented international isolation, a small but growing number of senior Kremlin insiders are quietly questioning his decision to go to war. . . .

So far, these people see no chance the Russian president will change course and no prospect of any challenge to him at home. More and more reliant on a narrowing circle of hardline advisers, Putin has dismissed attempts by other officials to warn him of the crippling economic and political cost, they said.

Some said they increasingly share the fear voiced by U.S. intelligence officials that Putin could turn to a limited use of nuclear weapons if faced with failure in a campaign he views as his historic mission. . . .

The president remains confident that the public is behind him, with Russians ready to endure years of sacrifice for his vision of national greatness, they said. With the help of tough capital controls, the ruble has recovered most of its initial losses and while inflation has spiked, economic disruption remains relatively limited so far.[8]

The Bloomberg article[9] seems to me a little inconsistent. If we speak of a “historic mission,” can this be limited to Ukraine, let alone the Donbas region? Yet, we speak of the Donbas now as if it alone is Putin’s goal. Count me very much among skeptics who doubt this is the case.[10]

The situation on the ground has changed since then but I am less sure about how much it has changed inside the Kremlin walls. But there is this.[11] I’m thinking we may have an answer soon. It might not be a final answer but it will be an answer.

Julian Borger, “Russia’s nuclear threats ‘totally unacceptable’, says UN chief,” Guardian, September 22, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/22/russia-nuclear-threats-totally-unacceptable-says-un-chief-antonio-guterres

Robyn Dixon, Mary Ilyushina, and David L. Stern, “Putin faces fury in Russia over military mobilization and prisoner swap,” Washington Post, September 22, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/22/mobilization-putin-anger-russia-war/

Robert Mackey, “Russians Return to Streets to Protest Widening of Putin’s War on Ukraine,” Intercept, September 22, 2022, https://theintercept.com/2022/09/22/russia-ukraine-putin-war-protests/

Paul Sonne and John Hudson, “U.S. has sent private warnings to Russia against using a nuclear weapon,” Washington Post, September 22, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/09/22/russia-nuclear-threat-us-options/

Şebnem Arsu et al., “Putin Bets It All in Ukraine,” Spiegel, September 23, 2022, https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/no-more-illusions-putin-bets-it-all-in-ukraine-a-a94b78fd-a99b-4196-a0a6-0332057337ea

Pjotr Sauer and Dan Sabbagh, “Border queues build as people flee Russia to escape Putin’s call-up,” Guardian, September 23, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/23/border-queues-build-as-people-flee-russia-to-escape-putin-call-up

David L. Stern and Robyn Dixon, “With Kalashnikov rifles, Russia drives the staged vote in Ukraine,” Washington Post, September 24, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/24/ukraine-putin-referendums/

Robyn Dixon et al., “Russian mobilization prompts backlash as Ukraine annexation effort plows ahead,” Washington Post, September 25, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/25/russia-ukraine-mobilization-referendums/

Edward Helmore, “Jake Sullivan: US will act ‘decisively’ if Russia uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” Guardian, September 25, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/sep/25/us-russia-ukraine-war-nuclear-weapons-jake-sullivan

Yaroslav Trofimov, “Pushing East of Kupyansk, Ukrainian Forces Expand Offensive,” Wall Street Journal, September 25, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/pushing-east-of-kupyansk-ukrainian-forces-expand-offensive-11664111037

Ishaan Tharoor, “The right-wing turn against Ukraine may be around the corner,” Washington Post, September 26, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/09/26/ukraine-west-right-wing-fatigue-italy/

Michael Horovitz, “Medvedev asserts Russia’s ‘right’ to use nukes to defend its territory,” Times of Israel, September 27, 2022, https://www.timesofisrael.com/medvedev-affirms-russias-right-to-use-nukes-to-defend-its-territory/

Julia Ioffe, “Putin’s Male Fragility,” Puck News, September 27, 2022, https://puck.news/putins-male-fragility/

Anatol Lieven, “Putin’s regime may fall – but what would come next?” Guardian, September 27, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/sep/27/putin-regime-fall-ukraine-west-negotiate

Agence France-Presse, “‘Full chaos’: Over 100,000 Russians flood neighboring countries to flee army call-up,” Times of Israel, September 28, 2022, https://www.timesofisrael.com/full-chaos-over-100000-russians-flood-neighboring-countries-to-flee-army/

Bloomberg, “Putin Raises Gas-Cutoff Threat as He Moves to Annex Ukraine Regions,” September 28, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-09-27/putin-raises-gas-pressure-as-he-moves-to-annex-ukraine-regions

Jennifer Hansler, “US Embassy warns Americans to leave Russia,” Cable News Network, September 28, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/09/28/politics/us-embassy-russia-warns-americans-leave/index.html

Meg Kelly and Michael Birnbaum, “E.U. warns of ‘robust’ response against sabotage after Nord Stream blasts,” Washington Post, September 28, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/28/nord-stream-russia-methane-leak-baltic-sea/

Times of Israel, “Suspecting Nord Stream sabotage, EU vows ‘robust’ response to energy network attacks,” September 28, 2022, https://www.timesofisrael.com/suspecting-nord-stream-sabotage-eu-vows-robust-response-to-energy-network-attacks/

Sarah Cahlan et al., “Russians rebel as Putin drafts more people in battle for Ukraine,” Washington Post, September 29, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/29/russia-putin-mobilization-protests-fury/

Drew Hinshaw, Matthew Dalton, and Laurence Norman, “NATO Formally Blames Sabotage for Nord Stream Pipeline Damage,” Wall Street Journal, September 29, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/nato-formally-blames-sabotage-for-nord-stream-pipeline-damage-11664449396


Gilead

Donald Trump

Coup attempt


Fig. 2. Department of Justice photograph of seized materials, reportedly partially redacted, via the Washington Post, August 31, 2022, public domain.[12]

Judge Aileen Cannon is at it again.[13]

Perry Stein, “Judge rules Trump lawyers don’t have to clarify Mar-a-Lago document claims,” Washington Post, September 29, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/09/29/cannon-dearie-trump-documents-classified/


  1. [1]Sarah Cahlan et al., “Russians rebel as Putin drafts more people in battle for Ukraine,” Washington Post, September 29, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/29/russia-putin-mobilization-protests-fury/
  2. [2]Şebnem Arsu et al., “Putin Bets It All in Ukraine,” Spiegel, September 23, 2022, https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/no-more-illusions-putin-bets-it-all-in-ukraine-a-a94b78fd-a99b-4196-a0a6-0332057337ea; Robyn Dixon et al., “Russian mobilization prompts backlash as Ukraine annexation effort plows ahead,” Washington Post, September 25, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/25/russia-ukraine-mobilization-referendums/; Robyn Dixon, Mary Ilyushina, and David L. Stern, “Putin faces fury in Russia over military mobilization and prisoner swap,” Washington Post, September 22, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/22/mobilization-putin-anger-russia-war/; Barbara Kollmeyer, “Putin’s partial draft announcement appears to spark scramble to leave Russia as flights fill up,” MarketWatch, September 21, 2022, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/putins-partial-draft-announcement-appears-to-spark-scramble-to-leave-russia-as-flights-fill-up-11663769382; Robert Mackey, “Russians Return to Streets to Protest Widening of Putin’s War on Ukraine,” Intercept, September 22, 2022, https://theintercept.com/2022/09/22/russia-ukraine-putin-war-protests/; Zoya Sheftalovich, “Putin calls up 300,000 reservists, makes nuclear threat,” Politico, September 21, 2022, https://www.politico.eu/article/putin-announces-partial-mobilization-russian-reservists-nuclear-threat-conscription-ukraine/
  3. [3]Mark Galeotti, “How does Putin extract himself from this nightmare of his own making?” Times, March 5, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/how-does-putin-extract-himself-from-this-nightmare-of-his-own-making-v2ktvw08g; Julia Ioffe, “Europe’s 9/11,” Puck News, March 3, 2022, https://puck.news/europes-9-11/; Paul Nuki, “Why Vladimir Putin may stay in power longer than we think,” Telegraph, March 8, 2022, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/03/08/vladimir-putin-may-stay-power-longer-think/
  4. [4]Julia Ioffe, “Inside Russia’s Media Black Hole,” Puck News, March 10, 2022, https://puck.news/inside-russias-media-black-hole/; Lisa McIntosh Sundstrom, “Will Russians Toss Their Leader?” Tyee, March 25, 2022, https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2022/03/25/Will-Russians-Toss-Their-Leader/; Joshua Yaffa, “Why Do So Many Russians Say They Support the War in Ukraine?” New Yorker, March 29, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/why-do-so-many-russians-say-they-support-the-war-in-ukraine
  5. [5]Bloomberg, “Kremlin Insiders Alarmed Over Growing Toll of Putin’s War in Ukraine,” April 20, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-20/putin-s-war-in-ukraine-has-russian-elites-fearing-global-isolation
  6. [6]Bloomberg, “Kremlin Insiders Alarmed Over Growing Toll of Putin’s War in Ukraine,” April 20, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-20/putin-s-war-in-ukraine-has-russian-elites-fearing-global-isolation
  7. [7]Bloomberg, “Kremlin Insiders Alarmed Over Growing Toll of Putin’s War in Ukraine,” April 20, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-20/putin-s-war-in-ukraine-has-russian-elites-fearing-global-isolation; Mark Galeotti, “How does Putin extract himself from this nightmare of his own making?” Times, March 5, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/how-does-putin-extract-himself-from-this-nightmare-of-his-own-making-v2ktvw08g; Julia Ioffe, “Europe’s 9/11,” Puck News, March 3, 2022, https://puck.news/europes-9-11/; Paul Nuki, “Why Vladimir Putin may stay in power longer than we think,” Telegraph, March 8, 2022, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/03/08/vladimir-putin-may-stay-power-longer-think/
  8. [8]Bloomberg, “Kremlin Insiders Alarmed Over Growing Toll of Putin’s War in Ukraine,” April 20, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-20/putin-s-war-in-ukraine-has-russian-elites-fearing-global-isolation
  9. [9]Bloomberg, “Kremlin Insiders Alarmed Over Growing Toll of Putin’s War in Ukraine,” April 20, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-20/putin-s-war-in-ukraine-has-russian-elites-fearing-global-isolation
  10. [10]David Benfell, “Where does Vladimir Putin stop?” Not Housebroken, September 19, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/03/04/where-does-vladimir-putin-stop/
  11. [11]Julia Ioffe, “Fear and Loathing in Moscow,” Puck News, September 13, 2022, https://puck.news/fear-and-loathing-in-moscow/
  12. [12]Devlin Barrett, “Justice Dept. says Trump team may have hidden, moved classified papers,” Washington Post, August 31, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/08/31/trump-documents-removed-storage-room/
  13. [13]Perry Stein, “Judge rules Trump lawyers don’t have to clarify Mar-a-Lago document claims,” Washington Post, September 29, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/09/29/cannon-dearie-trump-documents-classified/

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