The coming pogrom of the Russian Defense Ministry?

October 6, 2022

The long knives are out for the top military brass in Russia, Gerassimov & Shoigu are probably done for unless they do something about it

We’ve been following the murky developments in the Kremlin after the disasters at the front. These came out in the open with the astonishing statements by Kadyrov, Prigozhin, and Strelkov accusing the Generals of incompetence, cowardice, corruption, and nepotism. Then came the propagandists who piled on the Generals with variations on the theme. Yesterday, a prominent member of the Duma publicly accused the army of lying and destroying public trust in the Ministry of Defense. And now the Gauleiter of Kherson Stremousov started talking about the calls for Shoigu to commit suicide out of officer’s honor (although it’s not exactly clear whether he was endorsing this or just conveying the suggestion).

The Kremlin is clearly siding with the two guys with private armies (Kadyrov & Prigozhin), the security services (FSB/Strelkov) and, very likely, Rossgvardiya (Zolotov) against the Generals. That’s because of the tepid non-responses by Peskov to direct inquiries about Kadyrov and Prigozhin, as well as the simple fact that statements like the ones above are definitely damaging to the prestige of the Armed Forces, and under Putin’s laws of this year, subject to prosecution. In fact, the courts have been doling out multi-year prison sentences for much milder expressions against the military. (Although, of course, one big difference is that these here are only against the military — they are still ardent supporters of the war.)

What are we to make of this?

First of all, the immediate effect on the military will be demoralizing. If you believe the criticism, then you would believe that fools and criminals sent you to die in Ukraine with incompetent orders. If you don’t believe the criticism, your military honor is being impugned by some “coach generals” who blab about military operations from the safety of their plush homes.

Behaviorally, the first group is likely to welcome changes at the top in the belief that “finally things will be fixed and we will start fighting the way we’ve been supposed to.” This, in fact, is probably the message the Kremlin will be trying to send. Remember the nonsense about “we haven’t even started anything serious” that Putin made a while back. Well, now they can blame the Generals for screwing up the “special operation” but simultaneously peddle the narrative that the Tsar has seen through the “bad barons” and is now fixing everything. The Russians’ apparently bottomless belief in Putin and rule from the top will easily swallow this, and shore up support for the war. After all, this is the nation that spent 50 years building communism without getting even past the socialist stage, purely on promises of a better things just around the corner.

The second group, however, is more problematic for the Kremlin. Everyone in the military understands that Shoigu is a courtier, and there’s zero respect for him personally. However, this does not necessarily translate into support for attacks on the military as an institution. There are, after all, plenty of talented and smart officers there, as well as very dedicated local commanders. Plus, military honor would push these people to resent very deeply the likes of Kadyrov and Prigozhin talking down to the military. These people might well resist changes and commands from above. (Not necessarily openly. You can drag your feet when orders are given, you can demand written orders for everything you do, you can fulfill the letter of some orders but counteract the spirit, there are all sorts of ways to do passive resistance which can lead to your dismissal but not personal harm. Well, at least not yet anyway. Stalin eventually started shooting everyone for this sort of passive-aggressive countermanding of his orders.) In the extreme, these officers could form the nucleus of a military coup.

So the question is how far will the Kremlin go in smearing the military now. If they limit themselves to a couple of people at the top, the plan might work. The thing is, the people on the top have known that such dangers exist for years, and so it’s likely that there are a lot of people around them who were installed there for their loyalty rather than particular war-fighting talents. So the attempt to remove even a few might turn ugly really fast.

And then there’s the question of how to stabilize the regime after that. Putin’s balancing act depends on having several centers of power, all in competition with each other and for his “affections.” The military is one of them but if the current move destroys its leadership, the system will become unbalanced. Power will swing to the other guys with guns, Kadyrov and Prigozhin. (Rossgvardiya is good for internal suppression but not fighting real soldiers.) The FSB, which loathes these two characters, will not like this a bit. Its forces are huge but they are not designed to fight soldiers either, and are scattered across the country anyway. So the problem for both FSB and Rossgvardiya is that they can terrorize citizens but cannot stand up to a military force.

This makes the resulting 4-actor arrangement unstable as well, which means the actors will be at each others’ throats almost as soon as the military is decapitated. Perhaps FSB manages to push replacements that are sympathetic to it as a counter to the private armies, I do not know. But it sure will be messy.

Putin, however, appears to have no choice but cast some victims to the dogs — the catastrophe for the Russian military that is unfolding in Ukraine right now just demands a blood sacrifice to appease the domestic gods. But such an act is very dangerous to the regime itself, and may well trigger more of the centrifugal processes that we’ve been talking about, including violence.

With every day, the chances for Putin to come out of this alive are shrinking, and so his desperation must be sky-rocketing. And that’s bad news when it concerns a guy with nuclear codes.

One thought on “The coming pogrom of the Russian Defense Ministry?

  1. It’s obvious to me that Shoigu will be declared a Ukrainian-American Nazi spy specially created in NATO laboratories in Ukraine and sent to the Russian Federation (even before he was born, in vitro!) and then he will be shot on Red Square in front of all the people. This is going to be a show!

    Liked by 1 person

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