As it proves increasingly difficult for Russia to gain territory in Ukraine, speculation is mounting that Moscow’s slow advances and — particularly so — losses could lead to President Putin’s downfall, with analysts saying he could soon be confronted with a coup.
Russian security expert Andrei Soldatov said: “Does it matter? It matters a lot.
“This is the very first time the siloviki [officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB)] are putting distance between themselves and the president.”
This, Mr Soldatov argued, “opens up all sorts of possibilities”.
He told the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA): “The Russian President has been bracing for a coup for some weeks as he has faced fierce criticism over his ‘special operation’ in Ukraine and he has purged around 150 of his spies over the constant failures.”
His comments echo those of Dr Muraviev, Associate Professor of National Security and Strategic Studies at Curtin University, Australia, who said the “false narrative” the Russians are “going there as liberators rather than the invaders” is backfiring.
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He told Sky News Australia: “I think that there have been tensions between Russia and the intelligence community and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
“I think that sort of false narrative was presented to them by the Supreme Commander in Chief, and when it fired back when the Russians began taking heavy casualties, Putin began quietly blaming the security services.”
On Monday, the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said more than a quarter of the 120 battalion units the regime committed to Ukraine have now been rendered combat-ineffective – a figure which represents about 65 percent of the Kremlin’s entire ground combat strength.
The MoD claimed: “Some of Russia’s most elite units, including the VDV Airborne Forces, have suffered the highest levels of attrition.
“It will probably take years for Russia to reconstitute these forces.”
Ukraine’s Defence Ministry, meanwhile, said Moscow’s forces have lost 23,800 soldiers, 1,048 tanks, 2,519 armoured personnel carriers, 459 artillery systems, 194 aircraft and 84 cruise missiles.
Adding to the loss of equipment and troops are Putin’s generals and other high-ranking officers, among which there has been a bizarrely high volume of deaths.
James Stavridis, a former NATO supreme allied commander for Europe, said on Sunday the “amazing incompetence” of the Kremlin has led to a number of casualties not seen in any other recent conflict.
When the US engaged in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he highlighted, “not a single general was lost in actual combat”.
Speaking in a WABC 770 AM radio interview, he said: “In modern history, there is no situation comparable in terms of the deaths of generals.
“Here, on the Russian side, in a two-month period, we’ve seen at least a dozen, if not more, Russian generals killed.”
Mr Stavridis added the problems of Moscow’s military are reflected in “not just the generals being killed” but also in important losses such as its Black Sea flagship Moskva.
He said: “It’s been a bad performance by the Russians thus far.”
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Whether that could lead to a coup, however, remains to be seen.
Over the past two decades, Putin and his allies have structured nearly every core component of the Russian state so as to limit external threats to the regime.
The Russian president has arrested or killed leading dissidents, instilled fear in the general public, and made the nation’s leadership class reliant on his goodwill for their prosperity.
His fast response to anti-war protests during the current assaults on Ukraine through repressive tactics including mass arrests at demonstrations, the closure of opposition media, and the ban of social media platforms are proof of how far he is willing to go to stay in power.
General Jack Keane, former Vice Chief of Staff of the US Army, said the dictator will “do anything” to keep the Kremlin’s top job.
He said: “He’s all about staying in power. That’s his motivation. He will do anything to stay in power.
“The alternative, he knows full well, by a successor who doesn’t agree with him, could mean the end of him – his demise.
“He’s fighting to stay in power and he’s determined, I think, to still accomplish his goals.”
His ambitions, he told Fox News, are high despite his army’s obvious struggles.
He said: “He still wants to take the country over, topple the regime – and I take Putin seriously.
“I think many of us discounted him for a number of years, but he is about returning to the Russian Empire.
“I think as long as he’s in power, he will be in pursuit of it.”