Two senior officers are currently on
trial in Russia for attempting to organise coups, but few believe
a military-led uprising could succeed in the country in the
"There are no grounds for any such nonsense as a military coup in
Russia," said Igor Korotchenko, military expert and editor of
National Defense monthly magazine.
Tough-talking President Vladimir Putin, under whom tens of
thousands of servicemen were handed apartments and enjoyed
substantial salary raises, enjoys a certain popularity among the
military, something no potential military coup plotter can hope to
equal, he said.
A retired special forces colonel and a popular nationalist figure,
Vladimir Kvachkov, 64, is on trial in the Moscow City Court over
charges of organising a group of military servicemen, arming them
with crossbows and training them to seize a tank division in the
town of Kovrov, 270 km west of Moscow, in order to overthrow the
Two years ago, Kvachkov was acquitted of organising an attempted
assassination of Anatoly Chubais, an architect of the country's
market reforms which impoverished millions of Russians in the
The day after a higher court upheld the acquittal, a Moscow court
sanctioned his arrest on mutiny and terrorism charges, which carry
a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Kvachkov denies any
In a separate case, Afghan War veteran and retired colonel Leonid
Khabarov, 65, was arrested last year in the Urals city of
Yekaterinburg after the Federal Security Service (FSB) accused him
of plotting an armed mutiny.
According to the charges, Khabarov and his alleged accomplices
planned to break into the local offices of the FSB, the Interior
Ministry and Emergencies Ministry, kill the top officials there,
and blow up several electricity stations, causing a city-wide
blackout, in order to provoke rebellion in the army. Khabarov is
also suspected of heading the local cell of Kvachkov's front.
Khabarov denies the charges and is currently on trial in a
Yekaterinburg court. If found guilty he faces over 20 years in
Even if the allegations against the two retired military
commanders are found to be grounded, a crossbow mutiny seems more
than unlikely to succeed. The same can be said of a rebellion
triggered by a blackout. But these cases raise the question: Is a
military coup even possible in Russia?
History of Failed Coups
Russia's military has a rebellious past, the Decembrists' failed
coup of 1825 being just one of the best known episodes.
Less than a century ago, a significant proportion of those in
Russia's army were swayed by the vision of Communism aggressively
promoted by the Bolsheviks in the trenches of the First World War,
and supported the 1917 revolution that overthrew the Tsarist
In the following decades, Stalin purged the top brass of its most
popular leaders, some historians have suggested, because he feared
a military coup.
But thousands of Russian soldiers switched sides during WWII,
opting to fight alongside the Nazis against the Red Army. In 1991,
Communist hardliners seeking to oust reformist Soviet leader
Mikhail Gorbachev called on the military for support. This
support, however, did not materialise.
Two years later, the Russian military helped President Boris
Yeltsin quash the attempted rebellion by an opposition parliament.
Success came at a price: dozens of dead on Moscow's streets.
Through most of the 1990s and early 2000s, quite a few political
underdogs, particularly those in the nationalist and Communist
camps, have raised the spectre of a budding coup launched by
disgruntled servicemen, unhappy with the living conditions they
ended up with even after serving their country in two Chechen
But not a single military unit has ever been reported to have
rebelled or disobeyed their commanders' orders.
As Putin started pouring money into the Russian Armed Forces,
these talks all but disappeared from the public discourse.
"The majority (of the officers) support Putin," said Korotchenko,
who is also head of the defence ministry's public council. "Putin
is a great authority for them."
Not So Loyal
But this is only partially true. Analysts at the Institute of
Globalization Studies and Social Movements, a Moscow-based think
tank, recently published a report saying that has some of the
prerequisites for a successful military coup scenario are present
They predict that if there is a military revolt in Russia, "it
will develop from the bottom, without generals, but including
"Many in the military are leaning to the left, and vote for the
Communist Party," said Ivan Shchyogolev, a military analyst with
the institute, highlighting the fact that they are not loyal to
the government. But, as yet, they stop short of openly protesting
against it yet, he said.
Another researcher at the institute, Vasily Koltashov, wrote that
"even though the military are depicted as pro-nationalist, they
are not happy with the government's rightist social and economic
This study is based on a comparative analysis with countries such
as Portugal, Spain, Greece and Latin America, Shchyogolev
On Saturday, thousands of soldiers in civilian clothes marched
through Lisbon to protest against next year's austerity budget.
There has never been a military protest on that scale in Russia.
Russia is a nuclear power. Its forces are heavily guarded by the
intelligence services, and even if riots start brewing among
servicemen and women, the FSB will doubtless react before it
reaches boiling point, experts believe.
The authorities simply do not fear the possibility of a military
coup, and are confident that the intelligence services would be
able to contain any mutinous activity, Shchyogolev said.
In addition, the recent replacement of unpopular former tax
official Anatoly Serdyukov as Defense Minister with well-perceived
former Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu will further appease the
Serdyukov was ousted from his post Nov 6, shortly after a probe
was opened into suspected massive corruption deals within the
ministry that cost it in excess of three billion rubles ($95
Former lawmaker with the State Duma security committee, Gennady
Gudkov, who served with the KGB, said that the military will not
join the protests in the near future. However, he added, the
potential remains that, further down the line, they may decide
"Putin is Putin. But why should they side with corrupt officials?"
Gudkov asked rhetorically in an interview, referring to the series
of corruption scandals in the defence ministry. "The servicemen
cannot tolerate this situation indefinitely," he added.
Shchyogolev agreed that "a military coup is plausible, but it
cannot happen today" and requires more discontent with the
(Alexandra Odynova writes for RIA Novosti. The views are her own)