Kremlin rivals look set to replace Vladimir Putin as Ukraine invasion falters

In February, Russian leader Vladimir Putin launched what he called a “special military operation” with the aim of destroying Ukraine. But 243 days later, he’s closer to destroying Russia.

Putin formally annexed four Ukrainian oblasts (more or less equivalent to a US state) on September 30. That act opened up a major rift inside the Kremlin, with some officials secretly contacting their opposite numbers in the West to express their dissatisfaction with Putin’s war.

While more hard-line voices in Moscow have vowed to continue the war until it’s won – no matter how long that takes – others are desperately trying to open up negotiations in the hope of finding some compromise that will enable Putin to pull out of Ukraine while still saving face.

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Major General Kyrylo Budanov, commander of Ukraine’s Military Intelligence Directorate, says several influential Kremlin figures largely did not support Putin’s decision to annex the Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.

Budanov claims Dmitry Patrushev, son of former FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev, "hypothetically" has a chance of taking over as president.

But he says Sergey Kiriyenko, who masterminded the policy of annexing Ukrainian territories, is keen to replace Putin.

However, Budanov says the Kremlin's first deputy chief of staff and former prime minister is unlikely to lead any kind of rebellion. While he says Kiriyenko “sees himself in the chair," Budanov says Kiriyenko sees himself becoming leader in “a more or less peaceful transfer of power”.

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The anti-Putin conspirators are keeping their names quiet, but the pro-war faction has been much more upfront.

Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a close ally of Putin and boss of the Wagner Group mercenaries, has made it clear he is part of the “war until victory” faction.

And Russia, having annexed the four contested oblasts, could potentially interpret any Ukrainian attempt to re-take them as an attack on Russian territory – triggering a potential nuclear strike.


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