One of the abiding mysteries in the Russian coup story is explaining how the all-powerful Putin allowed the insurrection to overrun a military staging base and then move unopposed up the highway almost to Moscow.
Was Putin flummoxed? Did other military leaders assist Prigozhin? Legendary incompetence by the Russian Army? Mutiny among the Putin inner circle that took some time to buy off? An attack of Covid? Bad cellphone connections with Prigozhin? Scrambling to find evidence to pin the failed coup on America or NATO?
Hard to know, and probably hard to ever know. So what if the whole thing was staged by Putin and his pal-in-arms Prigozhin? Such is the imaginative theory noted from social media by New York Times writer Serge Schmemann.
Schmemann writes: “Theories are circulating on social media that the entire rebellion was a charade from the start, maybe even staged by Mr. Putin for some convoluted reason.”
Nothing like a failed coup to provide cover for a dictator to crack down on enemies, Schmemann observes. He finds parallels with Stalin (after the “doctors’ plot” of the 1950s), Recep Erdogan (after an aborted coup in 2016), and Pushkin’s version (The Captain’s Daughter) of a doomed plot against Catherine the Great in the 1770s. Such failed coups often lead (as with Hitler) to bloody purges, surges in popularity, and sweeping crackdowns.
In short, put on your list of possible explanations the one where Putin stage-managed the whole coup and un-coup. If so — look out, Putin foes and near-foes. And Putin may finally have a good cover for explaining why he invaded Ukraine in the first place, and why he now needs to put the nation on a war footing.