27

These days, there have been media reports claiming that parts of the Russian elite have plans to assassinate Putin, citing Ukrainian intelligence as sources. However, I am not aware of details on how this information was obtained and became public. There might have been a leak in the system and this information was not meant to be disclosed in the foreseeable future, but still got out somehow. Or it might be entirely fabricated, without any facts (not even classified) to back it up. Or it might be genuine, officially declassified information.

As detailed in Why do people think that if Putin ceases to be Russian president, the Russo-Ukraine war will cease?, Ukraine would tend to benefit from an actual assassination. That would make them likely to at least silently support such an operation. Disclosing intelligence information would then, however, likely tip off Putin that his life might be under greater threat than anticipated until now, and thus decrease the odds of such an operation succeeding.

So how come the media are now in a position to discuss such information, from intelligence sources that would have good reasons to keep it secret?

6
  • 7
    What intelligence information? It's just a claim, as far as I can tell. Mar 22, 2022 at 17:30
  • 2
    If Ukraine states that there is an assassination plot against Putin, it carries exactly zero information, because that claim helps their morale, so they would claim it regardless whether it is true or not. On the other hand, if Putin did get assassinated but his successor doesn't want to give up the war, they will likely claim that it was the Ukrainians (or American agents, or whatever) who did it, regardless whether it is true or not.
    – vsz
    Mar 23, 2022 at 6:07
  • 1
    I'd imagine that Putin has been looking over his shoulder for many years, not just recently!
    – Tim
    Mar 23, 2022 at 9:01
  • 1
    @Tim it is just recently that the conditions behind his back changed. All these years he was successful in any regard and people in his immediate proximity did benefit from his success - hardly a recipe for a coup. Now, there is no more the usual aura of immediate and unequivocal success around Putin and the same people are hostages of his previous success. Everyone around Putin either could be framed for the sub-optimal results (by Putin) or simply sink with him (should Putin fall from the throne). THIS is a recipe for a coup. Putin profoundly understands the difference.
    – fraxinus
    Mar 24, 2022 at 11:21
  • 1
    Well, we don't know for sure that whoever comes after Putin will be more peaceful. Putinism is pretty much entrenched in Russian culture.
    – fraxinus
    Mar 24, 2022 at 15:44

5 Answers 5

57

An important part of remaining in power as a dictator is the general impression that it is inevitable that the dictator will remain in power (at least for the medium term) — because then challenging the dictator carries a high risk with little reward for it. If a dictator starts to appear vulnerable, the calculus for whether to oppose him changes — if there is a chance to topple him or to seize power for yourself, there starts to be a benefit to maybe outweigh the risk of going against him.

If for whatever reason the Ukrainian Intelligence knew of a concrete plan (eg "Tomorrow Sergey's guy Boris is going to switch Putin's vodka for drain cleaner."), they'd quite certainly keep quiet about it. If, however, they have info along the lines of "Two high-ranking Kremlin officials were talking about how convenient it would be if Putin fell out of a window and Shoigu would take over.", sharing the gist of this can make sense. These two guys might never act on it, but if others know that such attitudes exist, they might dare trying a coup.

Since the actual existence of these two guys isn’t really relevant, it is of course a plausible assumption that they never existed in the first place, and that the entire thing is just made-up as a psy-ops.

If such reports cause Putin to become even more paranoid and purge his surroundings, this will weaken Russian command structures — and might cause someone to putch against Putin to prevent being purged for potentially planning to do so.

2
  • 7
    Yup, ultimately that's the main reason why protests get stomped so hard in an authoritarian state. If everybody believes they are the only ones that don't support the current guy they aren't going to act on it.
    – xLeitix
    Mar 23, 2022 at 15:10
  • 2
    If for whatever reason the Ukrainian Intelligence knew of a concrete plan they'd quite certainly keep quiet about it. — unless, of course, they're infiltrated by Russian pro-Putin spies.
    – gerrit
    Mar 23, 2022 at 16:00
15

As you note, it's entirely reasonable to conclude that if this information legitimately exists in the hands of Ukrainian intelligence services, it was not released to the media voluntarily.

However, there are things to be gained generally from showing your hand in such instances.

For one thing, even if you'd love nothing more than to see an adversarial leader assassinated - as you state, the specific outcome of that is uncertain. It could lead to a collapse of your enemy's ability to fight a war. Or said leader may end up a martyr, and you blamed for his assassination. Priming the narrative that it was an inside job, and not your doing, is important to avoiding the latter case.

For another, and especially if you think the plot will fail, simply airing the fact that your opponent has loyalty/control issues in their own house can sow discord/suspicion among your enemies - classic Sun Tzu stuff.

The release of information like this is often more substantive than the subject of the information. There's a whole host of potential strategic reasons, offensive and defensive, to release it.

But again, we don't even know that the release was deliberate.

We will probably never know, nor ever fully understand the specific reasons if it was deliberate.

8
  • 2
    "...declared a Sunday Facebook post from the Chief Directorate of Intelligence for the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine" - this is a deliberate release of information if we ever saw one
    – alamar
    Mar 22, 2022 at 18:05
  • 5
    @alamar Deliberate on behalf of that one person, yes. Deliberate on behalf of the agency and/or MoD.... debatable. Likely, but I'm an American, so since 2016 I can't even pretend to assume that the person in charge of something can be credited with sharing that thing's mission. Mar 22, 2022 at 18:11
  • "leader may end up a martyr [...] blamed for his assassination" - I don't think so: Russia is sees as the stronger country, especially internally. If the president gets killed, this shows a lot of weakness in a system where you don't expect it. A martyrer should be on the weaker side, I think it would be very true for Zelensky. Blamed in this context is attributed: it would only show "how strong Ukraine is"! They could even eliminate the other leader! No, they would deliberately deny that, rather say he died of... heroically riding a horse. Weakness and dictator doesn't work.
    – Mayou36
    Mar 23, 2022 at 8:38
  • @Mayou36: That may be true for a dictator, but it should be noted that Archduke Franz Ferdinand being assassinated didn't seem to stop him from being a cause for a war, despite his country being on the stronger or equal side as the country that the group that assassinated him was from. Mar 23, 2022 at 21:18
  • 1
    @Mayou36 He might not become a martyr per se, but his death could reinforce the narrative that Ukraine is a threat to Russia under it's current government and needs to be subdued by Russia. While Ukraine continues to defend itself within it's own territory, that narrative is pretty weak - but if 'Ukraine' (or someone they can pretend is acting on behalf of Ukraine) managed to assassinate the well-defended leader of Russia, it would be relatively easier to convince everyday Russians that they are actually under attack and need to 'defend themselves' by continuing the invasion.
    – Kayndarr
    Mar 24, 2022 at 1:20
7

As suggested recently by a well know Ukrainian politologist Vitaly Portnikov, nobody who is actually plotting a coup releases the details of the planned coup to any intelligence services. Much less to the hostile intelligence services. But we knew that even without Portnikov. This is common sense 101.

So who needs to release such info and why?

Well, the enemies of Putin’s regime need to release info like this, which attempts to discredit the alleged tight grip of Putin on power in the Kremlin, or in his bunker in the Urals.

Why name specific people? The people named in such cases are those closely linked to the current ruler and also those who are next in line for being punished by this ruler. I would personally name defense minister Sergey Shoigu, but the mastermind of the war and FSB director would be another prime candidate. This is done to sow discord in the rows of the Kremlin ruling elite, the military and the other arms of FSB.


In the spirit of mostly objective and friendly atmosphere on this site, I would like to ask the commenters in the space below (a) to cite references and sources, and (b) to use a friendly and nice language. Please remember that this community expects the users to help "build a community that is rooted in kindness, collaboration, and mutual respect". See also: Should we have a "back it up" rule for answers? (which also applies to comments), Code of Conduct.

2
  • 3
    Btw. where is Putin the whole day long? Does he work in the Kremlin or rather doing home office from some unknown location. Mar 22, 2022 at 20:28
  • 2
    @Trilarion I love your question & your sense of humor! Roger that. I will keep an eye on the situation, & will let you know as soon as I get his new directional coordinates. Over & out. Mar 22, 2022 at 21:24
2

I see nothing but benefits for them regardless of if it’s true or not. It might plant a seed for someone to actually attempt it, it probably makes Putin even more paranoid and unhinged which in turn could result in more countries involvement. In any case, things can’t get much worse for Ukraine so why not - anything to redirect Putins attention or force more players to engage.

1
  • 2
    Actually, there is a disadvantage: if the assassination plan is specific, it maybe makes Putin more paranoid strengthening its security and thereby making the assassination harder/impossible
    – Mayou36
    Mar 23, 2022 at 8:40
1

One of the goals of the Western side of this conflict is to keep channels open to Russian integration in the future. Thus, the conflict is being portrayed as Putin and Putin's interests against Ukraine, and not Russia or Russian interests against NATO.

"Leaking" plans to assassinate Putin, thus suggesting that Putin is to blame for the conflict, reinforces the media image that this is Putin's personal conflict and not a Russian conflict.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .