While any NATO attack on Russia—including a no-fly zone where Russian military aircraft are operating in Ukraine—would likely mean World War III and Putin quite possibly using nuclear weapons, revolution from within does not pose such risks and is hardly foreign to Russian history. Herein is a plausible way the Russian Army might enact a coup d’état to overthrow Putin alongside an uprising of the Russian people and the rest of the world cheering on their efforts, such a rebellion being the best possible outcome for this entirely miserable affair.
(Russian/Русский перевод) By Brian E. Frydenborg, March 19, 2022 (Twitter @bfry1981; LinkedIn, Facebook); excerpted and slightly adapted from his March 8 Small Wars Journal piece The Beginning of the End of Putin? Why the Russian Army May (and Should) Revolt (featured on March 9 by Real Clear Defense, The National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED) Democracy Digest, and SOF News) and related articles excerpted and slightly adapted from that piece:
- March 9: A Look at Putin’s Disgraceful, Heartless, Barbaric Treatment of Russian Soldiers and Their Families
- March 11: On Casualties Counts in Russia’s War on Ukraine
- March 13: How Best to Penetrate Putin’s Media Iron Curtain in Russia? Dead Russian Troops
- September 16: I Saw This War Could Be Putin’s Undoing All the Way Back in Early March
Also see his earlier article The Utter Banality of Putin’s Kabuki Campaign in Ukraine published by Small Wars Journal the morning of February 21 and featured by SOF News on February 26; see related articles excerpted and slightly adapted from that piece:
- February 21: Why Is Putin Doing All This Now?
- February 25: How to Lose Nations and Alienate People, by Vladimir Putin
- March 1: Putin’s NATO Narrative Is Bullshit
- March 16: Putin’s Zombie Russian/Slavic Ethnonationalism Is Utterly Banal
WASHINGTON and SILVER SPRING—I noted before that the betrayal of Russian soldiers and their families was being weaponized by Ukraine and should be weaponized by the U.S.-led international community, including NATO. But most importantly, these injustices must all be seized upon by the Russian soldiers and the Russian people themselves.
The Time Is Ripe for the Russian Army and the Russian People to Reject War, Reject Putin, and Rebel
Despite Putin’s totalitarian-ish crackdown on media and the flow of information, social media (ironically so often the vehicle for the dissemination for Russia’s own disinformation) and, especially, certain messaging apps (e.g., Telegram), are too powerful to be easily silenced fully, and it is hard to stop text exchanges. Especially among the country’s young people, information will keep trickling in past Putin’s Media Iron Curtain through these means, and with enough holes emerging, the truth will light the way for more and more inside Russia as time marches on.
As this far more accurate and convincing information reaches the Russian people, we can expect some of the “yes” to war and most of the undecideds of the CNN poll mentioned earlier to switch to “no.” With many of their lives being ruined under sanctions and international isolation, Russians will turn to the people they should blame most of all: introspectively, themselves for being duped by Putin’s propaganda and empowering him, and externally, Putin and his inner circle themselves, who made themselves monstrously wealthy and treated Russia, its resources, its industries, and its military as their personal playthings. Protests will erupt in Russia in ways not seen since the fall of Soviet Union.
All the devastating Ukraine revelations have happened incredibly quickly, and it will take time for things to filter into enough Russian minds, so expect a gap, but when at least some of the truth does become apparent to a certain critical mass of Russians, expect Russians to revolt from within.
In response to understanding the precariousness of its standing with its own people, in the crackdown alluded to above, Putin’s regime is censoring, (partly?) blocking, banning, or even criminalizing the work of major Western news outlets, independent Russian news outlets, protests, and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter: reporting the truth inside Russia of Putin’s war in Ukraine is now illegal. Other platforms—such as YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, and text messaging—remain. It is inevitable, then, that word of what is happening in Ukraine and the awful treatment of Russian soldiers will continue to spread among the Russian population, members of which are increasingly taking to the streets in protest despite at least some 4,600 protesters being arrested throughout Russia just on Sunday, March 6, according to the Russian human rights organization OVD-Info, with about 13,000 arrested in total since February 24, some of them tortured. Among those arrested was Yelena Osipova, a nearly-eighty-year-old woman who survived Nazi Germany’s epic Siege of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) during World War II. The protests have the backing of that perennial political martyr and thorn in Putin’s side, Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent dissident opposition leader and anti-corruption activist, currently jailed himself for ridiculous fake “crimes” and facing new state-initiated indignities.
Russian people, businesses, and celebrities (even Elizaveta Peskova, the daughter of Putin’s main spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov) are speaking out and warning their countrymen, customers, and fans of the mendacity and killing that is afoot because of their government and its autocratic leader holed up in the Kremlin. A Russian senator even complained publicly during a Federation Council meeting that conscripts were being coerced into signing contracts and that, in one unit, only four survivors out of 100 soldiers total returned alive from fighting in Ukraine. Such acts knock chunks out of the wall of Putin’s Media Iron Curtain.
Soldiers, indeed, whole military units disgusted with their mission—being forced to become murderers and war criminals—will get wind of the massive outrage and civil unrest at home as protests in Russia grow in number, frequency, and intensity. And these protests will include these soldiers’ mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, romantic partners, children, and friends hitting the streets, even leading the protests.
Hopefully, enough of these troops, their officers, and commanders will realize and collectively decide as whole military units that there is a more important mission than destroying and subjugating Ukraine: to march on Moscow, join the people for whom they should be fighting, and realize that when the military and people are united, Putin is defenseless. Russia can end an era of gaslighting, delusion, criminality, and kleptocracy through the actions of the Russian people themselves. Russian soldiers wising up to their abuse and taking a stand, sometimes a stand that echoed throughout history and helped bring down the Russian government at the time, is not unheard of in Russian history, especially in the twentieth century. Thus, this would hardly be unprecedented.
It is already occurring to Ukraine’s government that Russian soldiers and their families are very much worth engaging, as it is already appealing directly to them and has set up that aforementioned hotline to help reunite Russian soldiers with their families, but there should be a concerted information warfare campaign to coopt Russian soldiers and citizens directed not just by Ukraine but by the entire NATO Alliance and the rest of the democratic world. The prolific hacking group Anonymous has already gotten into the action, including with a major hack March 6 of all Russian state television stations and several Russian streaming services that put footage of Russia’s Ukraine war, suppressed in Russia, on screens for the whole of Russia to see. Other hacking groups and tens of thousands of volunteer cyberwarriors from around the world are engaging in similar efforts on behalf of Ukraine (perhaps even including U.S. Cyber Command). Such acts will do much to lift the veil of gaslighting draped by Putin over many a Russian’s eyes, and should dramatically increase opposition to the war and Putin’s regime over time.
As I have noted time and time again, Putin’s information warfare against the West has been relentless. Now, let us turn the tables on him, but use truth as our weapon instead of the disinformation so favored by Putin as we give him a coordinated taste of his own medicine. In turning the tables of cyberwarfare on the Kremlin, NATO should even explicitly add cyberwarfare—including disinformation—to NATO’s collective defense Article 5 in addition to engaging in this targeted information warfare offensive. And if NATO states adjust Article 5 in this way—as I formally recommend last year—they can even collectively declare Article 5 in response to Russia’s years-long sustained cyberwarfare against NATO and carry out this offensive information warfare campaign as the first cyberwarfare-related invocation of Article 5 and just the second-ever invocation in the Alliance’s history, the only one so far being a response to the 9/11 attacks.
History Has Its Eyes on All of Us
Barely a fifth into the twenty-first century, Great Power autocracy in Europe has reared its ugly head again, ready to destroy Western democracy and the precious post-World War II order of European—and relative global—peace and stability, sometimes referred to as the “Long Peace,” or Pax Americana. I must admit, when I wrote almost exactly six years ago an article warning of Western democracy being tested like no time since World War II, I did not imagine a major land war in Europe in 2022. But make no mistake about it, Putin at the helm of Russia has forced this upon us and seeks to drag Europe and the world centuries backwards, with China watching, waiting, and taking notes.
Let’s make sure we provide China a clear set of lessons by encouraging and demonstrating the high cost of actions like Russia’s and encouraging a Russian soldiery at its breaking point, abandoned in so many ways by its Kremlin, to march on Putin in Moscow in support of the Russian people and their shared Motherland. Not through NATO military forces, but through the Russian people themselves—soldier and citizen joined together—can Russia, now more than ever, seize the moment and rid itself of Putin and Putinism.
And then, having freed themselves from tyranny, Russians would find—should they want to reach out—open arms and extended hands from the West.
Should a Russia free of Putin clasp hands with and embrace the West, the future will be a world in which there is no challenge that Russia, Europe, and the United States working together cannot overcome. And in such a world, China will not want to be left out.
But for such an era to come about, the first and necessary step is for Putin to be gone and for Russia to no longer be a menace on the periphery of Europe and the free world but to be a partner of both as part of both. For NATO to attempt to do this itself is the path to World War III, perhaps nuclear war and the destruction of humanity and the world; it is for Russians to remove Putin, but if they do, they will find the same level of global support Ukraine has found.
Under the threat of Putin and the leadership of U.S. President Joe Biden, the West and the free world have awoken and realized they are strong, stronger than Putin and in a position to stare down his challenges to freedom, democracy, and that singular international order set up in the wake of the Second World War. And they will gladly support the Russian people of a post-Putin Russia in a quest to rejoin the family of nations as a good-faith constructive partner for an era of unprecedented global cooperation. This support would match the amazing energy present in the current solidarity being expressed for Ukraine, but it is up to Russians to decide if they are willing to fight for a better future for themselves as Ukrainians clearly have. And by far the best way for this to happen is for the Russian Army—the weakest link in Putin’s current imperialist plans—to become Putin’s worst nightmare.
Putin began his reckless campaign by dangerously overplaying his hand in Ukraine, and now we see him dangerously overplaying his hand at home in Russia. At the heart of this all are some of the people most wronged not just by his regime in general, but most especially during his Ukraine fiasco: the rank-and-file Russian soldiers fighting—and dying—on the front lines and their families back home in Russia. The Russian people owe nothing to this orchestrator of the betrayal of those soldiers and their families, but they owe a great deal to the Russian soldiers and Ukrainians being treated as disposable pawns for the geopolitical ambitions of the dictator they empowered. Only by removing Putin themselves can they restore Russia, in time, to true greatness, but going along with their Dear Leader’s insane playbook will only result in the opposite.
For too long, Russians have fed Putin’s maniacal, anachronistic ambitions; now is the time for them to act—for soldiers to inspire citizens and citizens to inspire soldiers—to free the world of a madman; waiting may prove fatal for the Ukrainian state and far too many Ukrainians and Russians fighting in the current tragedy created by Putin. This war in Ukraine is not the first tragedy foisted upon the world by Vladimir Vladimirovich, but let us all—especially the Russian Army and people—ensure it will be his very last.
See all Brian’s Ukraine coverage here
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