Did Putin Stage-Manage the Failed Coup?


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.

David Brewster
David Brewster
David Brewster, a founding member of Post Alley, has a long career in publishing, having founded Seattle Weekly, Sasquatch Books, and Crosscut.com. His civic ventures have been Town Hall Seattle and FolioSeattle.


  1. or as a smoke screen to cover the relocation the Wagner Group from Russian/Ukranian border to Belarus, for still unknown purposes.

  2. It feels a little funny to be disagreeing with Serge Schmemann, who’s so deeply credentialed to write about Russia, far more than me. But I don’t think think Putin is puppet-mastering behind the scenes….though it IS strange how the insurrection was able to move so quickly, so fast.

  3. Here comes the crackdown, whether or not Putin stage-managed the failed coup. He certainly knows how to exploit it, demanding loyalty, probing for disloyalty.

    “Some members of the Russian elite, terrified at how close Prigozhin’s fighters got to Moscow and to setting off a civil war, raced to show their loyalty to President Vladimir Putin. But rumors abounded and paranoia deepened over whether Prigozhin had support from the upper reaches of Russia’s military or security services, and what the probes might reveal about treachery within Putin’s regime.” So writes the Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/06/29/kremlin-putin-investigation-wagner-rebellion/

  4. A Newsweek columnist also argues that Putin, with an eye on his reelection campaign next March, staged the failed coup. https://www.newsweek.com/wagner-coup-was-staged-putin-west-fell-it-opinion-1810035. Rebekah Koffler writes: “With no end in sight to the Russia-Ukraine war, Putin has to convince the Russians of the need to bear even more sacrifices in order to maintain popular support for the war in Ukraine. Putin achieved this by appealing to two primordial fears of the Russian people: invasion from the West and chaos.”


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