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Coup in Russia: A Dent to Putinism
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Putinism: A Prologue

The best way to describe and theorize the regime in Russia since 2000 is by means of ‘Putinism’. The term can be referred as form of autocracy which is populist, conservative and personalistic in nature[1]. Putin since being appointed as the President of Russia by Boris Yeltsin in 1999 has worked on populist agenda to gain credibility among fellow Russians and subordinate the political setup of the Kremlin. The populist notion of Putin overlaps with his conservatism ideologues which prioritizes status quo in order to avoid any political unrest and instability. The personalistic autocratic trait of Putin resides in one man show, which is characterized by complete and firm grip of Putin over every department of the Kremlin and eliminating any sort of resistance from within and beyond[2]. In depth study of Putinism reveals the various stages of its formation and the core events which have greatly motivated this cynical approach. During the cold war era, Putin had been serving at infamous Soviet spy agency ‘The KGB’. The KGB era has profound impact on Putin’s personality. KGB much known as subsidiary of soviet power, worked for strengthening the Moscow’s rule and eliminating any sort of resistance and threat to communism[3]. This clandestine service of soviet era effectively used misinformation, deception and agitation as its tools to influence the rivals. Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and rise of insurgent group known as ’Little Green Men’ effectively portrays Kremlin deception and misinformation game impressed from KGB[4]. Putin’s time in Dresden East Germany during fall of the Berlin wall played an important role in shaping of his personality[5]. Boris Yeltsin, former President of USSR and a great reformer also left profound effect on personality of Putin hence providing foundations for Putinism. During coup attempt of 1991, Yeltsin came out in public outside the Parliament and paved the resistance against the coup. This gutsy move by Yeltsin on that eventful day not only protected his presidency but also put him in driving seat as he emerged to be powerful and in control among the masses[6]. The Putinism has adopted this characteristic and hence depicts the Kremlin to be strong and always in control. In 2007, during security conference at Munich, Putin showed his mettle and announces himself and Kremlin challenging the uni-polar world system led by US by stating it as of no use to Russia. Putin’s speech came as shocker for those who were working and investing to integrate Russia in post-cold war stability system[7]. Since taking over from Yeltsin in 2000 by a peaceful transfer of power, the Russian regime has never been regarded as democratic in nature but more of electoral autocracy or hybrid regime with foundations in communist and socialist system[8]. Putin’s last 23 years in power have systematically derailed the path of democracy in Russia and recent amendments in constitution post 2020 elections have enabled Putin to stay at Kremlin till 2036 further endorsing the populist and one man cult in Kremlin’s political structure.

Wagner Group: From Aide to Threat

Wagner group is a private militia fully funded and sponsored by Russia to achieve Kremlin’s military objectives without indulging regular Russian forces[9]. Wagner group remained as mystery till 2023 when Vladimir Putin himself owned the group and stated that the group is fully maintained by Kremlin. Just like ‘Little Green Men’ in Crimea during 2014, the Wagner Group acted as proxy for President Putin and participated in War against ISIS, Syrian civil war, war against Ukraine and in Africa[10]. Its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has been considered as close aide of Russian President and his front man for all the dirty jobs[11]. However, recent coup attempt by Prigozhin and his group against Putin has put Kremlin in very weak position and possibly Putin is facing the real threat to his political throne in 23 years of his reign. The tensions between Prigozhin and Russian military bureaucracy during siege of Bakhmut in Ukraine lead to this recent standoff between Wagner Group chief and Russian President Vladimir Putin[12]. Win at Bakhmut had certainly increased the share value for Wagner group and Prigozhin knows the support he has from his mercenaries. This recent event depicted callous attitude of Prigozhin towards his master and worth of Wagner group as pressure group. Russian military proved as easy target for the coup plotters as the group face little to no resistance from the Russian forces[13]. Kremlin dropping all the charges against Wagner group coup plotters and lack of action by Putin’s administration has disgorged the notion of strong administration and one man show in Moscow[14]. Complete control and strong aura, one of the essential postulates of Putinism have met with a serious blow after the coup attempt. From being confidant to rival, Prigozhin has emerged as major challenger for Putin and his authority. Another major challenge that Putin administration faces is from Russian military itself. Most of the generals in Russian military share good working relationship with Wagner group due to combine adventures and initiatives in Syria and Ukraine. Hence, the support to Wagner group within the Russian military for the coup attempt stays as major focus of attention and hence the loyalty of Russian troops and command towards Kremlin is a major question to address[15]. The coup has aroused the question on ministerial heads as well. Russia’s defence minister Sergei Kuzhugetovich Shoigu had been a major bone of contention between Russian administration and Wagner Chief Prigozhin. Prigozhin at various occasions has regarded defence minister as incompetent and ineffective and this coup attempt proved defence minister’s incapability in controlling his troops[16]. This tug of war between the ministerial officials poses serious threat of political instability to Kremlin and Putin’s rule. The future of Wagner group is a major conjecture to be made. While analysts are guessing about the future of Wagner group, it remains as effective and powerful stakeholder among Kremlin bureaucracies. This coup has certainly dented the credibility of Putin’s administration and Putinism has gone through a major setback. The acrimony between Putin and Prigozhin can lead to bleak future for Putinism and Kremlin administration.

Ali Bin Haroon is a student at National Defence University Islamabad in the Department of International Relations.


[1] “The Kremlin Emboldened: What Is Putinism?,” Journal of Democracy, accessed July 31, 2023, https://www.journalofdemocracy.org/articles/the-kremlin-emboldened-what-is-putinism/.

[2] Maxim Trudolyubov, “Opinion | Putin’s Imperial One-Man Show,” The New York Times, December 10, 2013, sec. Opinion, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/11/opinion/trudolyubov-putins-imperial-one-man-show.html.

[3] John Haltiwanger, “Putin’s KGB Past Is Key to Grasping What He Might Do next in His Failing Ukraine War, Ex-Spies Say,” Business Insider, accessed July 31, 2023, https://www.businessinsider.com/putin-kgb-taught-him-lie-think-like-terrorist-ex-spies-2022-10.

[4] “‘Little Green Men’ or ‘Russian Invaders’?,” BBC News, March 11, 2014, sec. Europe, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26532154.

[5] https://www.latimes.com/people/laura-king, “Super Spy or Paper Pusher? How Putin’s KGB Years in East Germany Helped Shape Him,” Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2023, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2023-06-15/russia-putin-early-kgb-years-east-germany-helped-shape-him.

[6] “Moscow Coup 1991: With Boris Yeltsin on the Tank,” BBC News, August 20, 2011, sec. Europe, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-14589691..

[7] “Opinion | The Speech In Which Putin Told Us Who He Was,” POLITICO, February 18, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/02/18/putin-speech-wake-up-call-post-cold-war-order-liberal-2007-00009918.

[8] Olga Malinova, “Legitimizing Putin’s Regime: The Transformations of the Narrative of Russia’s Post-Soviet Transition,” Communist and Post-Communist Studies 55, no. 1 (March 1, 2022): 52–75, https://doi.org/10.1525/j.postcomstud.2022.55.1.52.

[9] “Wagner Group | Facts, Leader, Rebellion, & Russia-Ukraine War | Britannica,” July 29, 2023, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Wagner-Group.

[10] “What Is Russia’s Wagner Group, and Where Are Its Fighters?,” BBC News, April 5, 2022, sec. World, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-60947877.

[11] “How Yevgeny Prigozhin Became Putin’s Warlord, Recruiting Russian Mercenaries?: NPR,” accessed August 1, 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/02/23/1158944377/russia-ukraine-war-mercenaries-prisoners-yevgeny-prigozhin-putin.

[12] “Wagner Group | Facts, Leader, Rebellion, & Russia-Ukraine War | Britannica,” July 29, 2023, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Wagner-Group.

[13] Brad Dress, “Putin Crackdown on Wagner Rebellion Creates New Weak Points in Russian Military,” Text, The Hill (blog), July 1, 2023, https://thehill.com/policy/defense/4076635-putin-crackdown-wagner-rebellion-weak-points-russian-military/.

[14] Scott Neuman and Jackie Northam, “The Mutiny in Russia May Be over. But It Still Damages Putin,” NPR, June 25, 2023, sec. Europe, https://www.npr.org/2023/06/24/1184161169/russia-wagner-putin-analysis-prigozhin.

[15] Alexandra Sharp, “Russian Leaders Pledge Loyalty to Putin,” Foreign Policy (blog), June 26, 2023, https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/06/26/russia-wagner-group-putin-prigozhin-coup-attempt/.

[16] Guy Faulconbridge, Felix Light, and Guy Faulconbridge, “Putin’s Defence Minister Should Consider Suicide, Russian-Installed Official Says,” Reuters, October 6, 2022, sec. Europe, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russian-installed-ukraine-official-pours-scorn-putins-generals-defence-minister-2022-10-06/.

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