Exclusive: KREMLIN COUP ATTEMPT, ONCE UNTHINKABLE, NOW LOOMS
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 5, 2002 -- It's been a difficult but successful year for Russia's new young president Vladimir Putin, and economic signs show the year ahead ought to be more successful still.
News reports say the Russian economy is firmly on the rebound, and following the initial shock of Russia's partnership with the United States in the War on Terrorism, his success on the political front has silenced many of the doomsayers who foresaw disaster for the dynamic former KGB officer who succeeded the immensely likable but vastly troubled President Boris Yeltsin.
Now, however, sources who are profoundly familiar with Russia's political landscape have told The American Reporter that President Putin may soon be ousted - within weeks, not months - in an early New Year coup.
The would-be rulers of the vast Russian nation are said to be a coalition of military figures who find themselves at odds with the Russian leader's policy shift toward the West - men who may have fought in Afghanistan and fear the American presence there will be sustained indefinitely - and Communists who see no light at the end of the economic tunnel and a death knell for for the Marxist-Leninist theory that catapulted the former Soviet Union from the ash heap to the rank of superpower - and back to the ash heap - in a single tumultous century.
Also eating away at Putin's support is the Russian president's seeming ambivalence to U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, which would permit Americans to try to mount a defensive "Star Wars" laser shield around U.S. airpsace. For the Russian plotters, such a shield would foreclose the possibility of a successful first strike against the United States in any future nuclear war, while leaving them vulnerable.
For some Russian generals, it is reportedly a matter of honor that Russia never be more vulnerable than the United States is to attack by intercontinental ballistic missiles or sea-based submarines armed with nuclear weapons. While opinions about the ability of such a shield to actually defend against a nuclear launch are mixed - it has failed in most of its test to stop such missiles - the coup preparations suggest that Russian generals have more confidence in the success of such a shield than American generals do.
The timing of such a coup would be mostly fortuitous for the United States. The war against the Taliban has been won, and indeed, there is a firm American presence - 3,000 U.S. Marines and counting - in Afghanistan, which borders some of the former Russian republics and is not far from Russia itself, and also shares a border with Iran, long a key United States enemy whose moderation has come at a glacial pace.
In addition, a ring of bases in Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Qatar, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is solidifying the American presence in the Middle East as never before, and in these and other bases from Bulgaria to the Chinese border more than 60,000 American troops are deployed in forward readiness for war.
A hostile new government in Moscow could not change any of that, at least in the short term. And for the Bush Administration, a coup could justify even more spending on "Star Wars" and strengthen the movement for withdrawal from the ABM Treaty.
But it would be a tragic blow for democracy in Russia, where human rights, free elections and the rule of law have only a tenuous foothold. Indeed, even as the country's economy embarks on a new year more or less on an even keel, political instability would quickly sink its near-term prospects. In all probability, Western lending commitments would dry up, Western firms that promised high-tech employment and middle class affluence would abandon the country, and Chechen rebels who have been reeling from a string of defeats would feel newly emboldened to strike again in the heart of Moscow and other major cities.
Whether a coup would succeed is unclear. Boris Yeltsin's famous last-ditch stand atop a tank on the front lines of the White Palace takeover in 1991 galvanized the world's support and won Yeltsin a second term even when both his health and his capacity for leadership, severely dimmed by alcohol, were poor.
Putin may not have the same set of circumstances to contend with, however, as planners of the predicted coup would undoubtedly try to remove him from public view at the earliest stage of their operation. With Putin incommunicado, they would likely reason, foreign governments would have to contend with those with whom they could communicate.
One policy likely to change at once would be support for the multinational War on Terrorism, at least to the degree it is supported by former Soviet Republics like Uzbekistan, whose provision of a staging ground for U.S. troops has been vital to the lightning-quick success of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.
Now that the United States has had an opportunity to demonstrate its intentions to the Uzbek government, though, will they gladly turn back to a conspiratorial ring of Communists with what would at best be a shaky hold on power in Moscow? The same group of conspirators would likely weaken Russia in the short term, even if they chose to move toward the Cold War arms race again.