The war in Ukraine is going badly for Russian President Putin. And now he may face a new threat thanks to this conflict: reports that Putin’s top officials think the war is lost. What does that mean for the embattled Russian leader?
Putin’s Kremlin elite are increasingly opposed to the war in Ukraine, according to a series of interviews by The Guardian.
In late February 2022, the Russian military said they’d be able to take control of Kyiv in just a matter of days. But 227 days later, the Russian forces have endured a series of disastrous defeats in Ukraine.
Ukrainian forces recently pushed back the Russian military from thousands of square miles of territory in eastern Ukraine, prompting the Kremlin to launch a chaotic mobilization of reservists and civilians.
As a result, Putin’s top officials now believe the war in Ukraine is lost.
One well-connected Russian state journalist told the Guardian that “intense dread” has taken hold of much of the political elite, saying, “The higher you go, the more desperation you feel. There is general understanding now that the war can’t be won.”
Another journalist, Yevgenia Albats, a Russian investigative reporter and editor of the New Times who was recently forced out of Russia, also spoke to The Guardian and said her sources within the Russian administration suggest that estimated that at least 70% of top officials are opposed to the war.
The Washington Post also reported serious qualms among Putin’s aides and advisors. “Since the start of the occupation, we have witnessed growing alarm from a number of Putin’s inner circle,” an unnamed Western intelligence official told The Post.
“Our assessments suggest they are particularly exercised by recent Russian losses, misguided direction, and extensive military shortcomings,” it said.
“This whole system is built around a vozdh, a leader”
However, despite this widespread opposition to Putin and his shortcoming military mission, Albats has said that Putin is likely to see any formal threats against his power.
“For there to be a schism,” an organizational split, “people need to stop being afraid,” she said.
Putin’s elite inner circle mainly comprises former security and intelligence officials, many of whom he knows from his days in St Petersburg and at the KGB, the Soviet precursor to today’s security agencies reported Insider’s Tom Porter.
Political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin said, “This whole system is built around a vozdh, a leader. If you get rid of Putin, you have to be able to deliver quick results, but everyone knows that is not possible right now.”
But in Putin’s regime, factions and infighting are increasing. For example, Yevgeny Prigozhin — the founder of the Wagner Group, considered Putin’s unofficial de-facto private army — and the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov had declared war against the defense minister, Putin loyalist Sergei Shoigu, after a series of defeats in Ukraine, according to the Guardian.
“Putin is a very destructive personality. He will play the different factions off each other and see what the best outcome will be. Putin just wants to see what is best for him and the war in Ukraine,” a former defense ministry official told the Guardian.
Bethany Dawson is a news reporter on the UK news team based in London for Insider where this first appeared. She holds a BSc in Politics and Sociology and was previously a freelance journalist for publications such as The Independent, the BBC, The Times, VICE, Refinery29, Private Eye, The Big Issue and more.