Infighting in Putin’s Inner Circle – 6-month outlook

Since Russia’s disastrous invasion of Ukraine began in February, Putin faced setback after setback. Russian elites begun to circle like vultures around the defence minister Sergei Shoigu, blaming him on Russian telegram channels and media while carefully avoiding criticising Putin himself. Senior members of Putin’s inner circle are utilising the failing invasion to undermine each other and increase their own power bases. With this continuing, it is likely the Federal Security Service (FSB) will play a larger role as it attempts to limit other parties’ influence and secure the regime.

KJ-1: It is highly likely that attacks against Shoigu will increase in the next 6 months.

  • A recent video showing 500 Russian troops protesting their woeful living conditions caused criticism of Shoigu. (Source)
  • It was distributed by social media accounts affiliated with Wagner Group’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin. (Source)
  • Bellingcat believes Prigozhin is deliberately leaking information to undermine Shoigu. (Source)
  • Vladimir Solovyev, one of Putin’s chief propagandists, blamed military top brass for Russia’s setbacks. (Source)
  • Kirill Stremousav, an influential pro-Russian blogger, said officers who failed in the way Shoigu had should shoot themselves. (Source)
  • Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen president, blamed the Russian defence ministry of nepotism and covering for incompetent officers. (Source)
  • Russian telegram channels are predicting Shoigu’s resignation/firing in the coming months. (Source)
  • Shoigu is useful as a scapegoat for the failures so far. (Source)
  • The botched mobilisation and attacks such as the shooting that killed 11 at a Russian training base will attract more attacks on Shoigu. (Source)

KJ-2: It is a realistic probability that infighting will not target Putin himself in the next 6 months.

  • This infighting consists of powerful players competing for influence over the state and above their rivals. (Source)
  • The most vocal Russian critics of the war avoid mentioning Putin in their criticism. (Source)
  • Putin’s divide-and-conquer approach to his advisors means there is no benefit to criticising him. (Source)
  • Putin promoted Kadyrov to Colonel General despite criticism, appeasing his more radical supporter base. (Source
  • 14th of October 2022, Putin claimed he has no regrets about the war in Ukraine to reassure supporters. (Source)
  • Most of the political opponents of Putin all left the country after the Partial Mobilisation decree. (Source)
  • Keeping Shoigu around deflects negative criticism from Putin. (Source)
  • Russian elites will delay any criticism to see if the war continues to be a disaster in the spring. (Source)

KJ-3: It is likely that the FSB will become increasingly involved in this factional infighting in the next 6 months.

  • The FSB do not want Kadyrov or Prigozhin to gain serious political power. (Source)
  • The FSB is demonstrating to Putin it can keep his regime safe. (Source)
  • As a result of the Kerch Bridge Blast the agency is much more active as it attempts to show its worth. (Source)
  • Some in Ukraine have even accused the FSB of carrying out the Kerch Bridge blast to undermine the ministry of defence. (Source)
  • Putin is paranoid as a result of the failures Russia faced in Ukraine. (Source)
  • The current head of the FSB, Nikolai Patrushev, is a favourite to take over from Putin. (Source)

Intelligence Cut Off Date: 11th of November 2022

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