Reports that the deputy head of Russia’s National Guard in Rosgvardia has been fired and detained for allegedly leaking information about the Kremlin’s military operation have sent the rumor mill in overdrive.
General Roman Gavrilov’s apparent fall follows Putin’s Stalin – like condemnation of “outlaws” and “traitors” in his midst, with promises to “purge” elements in the fifth column of Russian society.
According to various reports, Gavrilov was accused of spilling fuel, presiding over the loss of too many Rosgvardia troops and leaking intelligence. It suggests that the blame for Russia’s brutal but incompetent war effort has already begun.
Others say Putin deliberately excluded intelligence officials from war planning and preferred to put his trust in defense minister and army chief Sergei Shoigu.
Dissens claimed another scalp yesterday when Arkady Dvorkovich, deputy prime minister from 2012 to 2018, stepped down as chairman of Russia’s Skolkovo Foundation, a science and technology development center. A Member of Parliament has accused him of “national treason” and demanded his dismissal to question the wisdom and morals of the Ukraine invasion.
Dvorkovich had told American media: “My thoughts go to Ukrainian civilians,” adding: “Wars do not just kill priceless lives. Wars kill hopes and aspirations, freeze or destroy relationships and connections.”
Despite these intrigues, however, we should not expect a serious coup attempt – or even a major purge in the Kremlin – too soon.
No matter what senior officials think of Putin and the invasion of Ukraine, they are probably too divided to organize a coup against him.
Putin’s invulnerability rests on the clever power structure he has created for subordinates, which encourages different factions and even different individuals to compete with or undermine each other.
The officials believed to be closest to him are tough former Soviet security officials, known as siloviki. They include Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, Defense Minister Sergei ShoiguNational Security Adviser Nikolai Patrushev, Rosgvardia chief Viktor Vasilyevich Zolotov and Alexander Bortnikov, head of the FSB’s domestic intelligence service.
But Putin’s exaggerated treatment of these hawks – allegedly among the handful of officials who have his ear – is telling.
At a recent meeting of the Russian Security Council, Putin humiliated Naryshkin and accused the clearly terrified official of walking around before ordering him to sit down.
Even among siloviki there are three competing factions fighting against each other for influence and power: the army, the intelligence services and the police and the national guard.
It is worth remembering that most, if not all, of these figures appeared to support the invasion of Ukraine. So even if they were able to settle their disagreements and kick Putin out, Russia would be left with leaders or another dictator with a depressingly similar view.
Most likely, the arrest of General Gavrilov signals that repression and political persecution are being set up, while Putin’s actions are trampling on disagreements, while the wheels are turning off the economy.
This was underlined Friday morning with news that Russian lawmakers were moving to extend the law, which threatens 15 years in prison for criticizing the war in Ukraine.
New changes would make it a crime to criticize any Russian government agency operating abroad, including embassies and the National Guard – ironically given Gavrilov’s fate and Putin’s comments the day before.