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Keith Gessen’s “Could Putin Lose Power?” in the New Yorker
July 3, 2023

In the New Yorker’s Weekend Essay, Keith Gessen (George T. Delacorte Assistant Professor of Magazine Journalism) talks to experts in the field regarding the ways in which the Putin regime might collapse.

For the past several months, I have been talking to experts about a possible coup in Russia. I approached the question gingerly. It seemed too much to hope for; it seemed naïve. Vladimir Putin had been in power for more than two decades. Many had predicted his demise—always prematurely. There was a small cottage industry on Twitter of people insisting that Putin was ill. They liked to post photos of him sitting at meetings, clutching his desk as if he were about to fall. I didn’t want to be like that. “Is this ridiculous to even think about?” I would ask the experts. The experts laughed. They felt the same way. A coup was unlikely, they agreed. A popular uprising—a “Ceaușescu scenario,” in which the people stormed the Party’s headquarters, convened a hasty trial, and murdered their dictator—probably even less so. To a scenario like the one that actually played out last weekend—one of Putin’s warlords raising a mutiny, taking over one of the country’s military headquarters, and marching on Moscow, all while Putin was still in power—we gave very little consideration. It just seemed too outlandish to talk about.

One of the experts Gessen interviews is the Harriman’s own Peter Clement:

And yet, since the war began, all of the experts had been thinking about ways in which the Putin regime might collapse, and watching what Putin was doing to protect himself. Peter Clement, a former director of Russia analysis at the C.I.A., noted a televised meeting, days before the war, in which Putin browbeat members of his security council into pledging their support for his Ukraine policy. It was a brilliant move by Putin, Clement thought, to bring his senior administration officials in line. “They’re all complicit now,” Clement said. “It’s not like one of them can say, ‘I thought this was a stupid idea.’ They all signed on.”

Read “Could Putin Lose Power?”