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Ukrainian government agency alleges Alexander Bortnikov could replace Vladimir Putin

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An Ukrainian government body has revealed Vladimir Putin’s potential successor, hinting that the Russian elite have hatched a plan to remove the President.

Ukraine’s intelligence agency has shared reports that the Russian elite are considering removing Vladimir Putin as Russia’s President.

Citing methods like “poisoning, sudden disease and accident”, the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU) said an influential group of the country’s business and political establishment could install the director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov in the top position. Russian authorities have yet to respond to the claims.

“Their goal is to remove Putin from power as soon as possible and restore economic ties with the West, destroyed due to the war in Ukraine,” the agency wrote on its official Facebook page.

“It is known that Bortnikov and some other influential representatives of the Russian elite are considering various options to remove Putin from power. In particular, poisoning, sudden disease, or any other ‘coincidence’ is not excluded.”

The DIU also cites Russia’s military failures as a potential reason for Mr Putin’s outsing.

Who is Alexander Bortnikov?

Considered to be part of Mr Putin’s inner circle, Mr Bortnikov has been working as the director of the FSB since 2008.

The secretive organisation – which took over from the Soviet Union’s KGB when it was dismantled in the early ’90s – oversees blanket issues of national security, border security, counter-terrorism and counterintelligence. Both Mr Putin and Mr Bortnikov also worked for the Leningrad KGB before it was dissolved in 1991.

Mr Bortnikov is also a key member of the Russian siloviki. Translated into ‘people of force’ or ‘strong men,’ it’s the term given to former military personnel who are now in political positions. Other notable siloviki include Nikolai Patrushev (the Security Council secretary and Mr Bortnikov’ FSB predecessor) and Sergei Naryshkin – the director of the Foreign Intelligence Service.

As of February 22, 2022, both Mr Bortnikov and his son Denis – who is a deputy president of one of Russia’s biggest state-owned banks – have been sanctioned by the US, the EU and the UK.

The siloviki: A key threat to Putin

This isn’t the first time members of the siloviki have been reported as a potential challenge to Mr Putin’s regimen. According to a former Russian CIA intelligence lead, Steven L. Hall, the military elite pose a “real threat” to the President.

“Men like Patrushev and Bortnikov not only possess hard power, but they know how to use it and are inclined to do so,” he wrote for The Washington Post.

“The siloviki are willing to use this deadly mixture of hard power and secrecy when a serious threat to the Russian kleptocratic system emerges.”

And the delicate balance between military dominance, political influence and oligarch wealth that make up Russia’s “kleptocratic autocracy” is currently being threatened by Western sanctions and Mr Putin’s expensive war on Ukraine, Mr Hall wrote.

However, while the oligarchs don’t have the brute force to oust Mr Putin, the siloviki do.

“They have weapons and the personnel to threaten Putin,” he said.

“They know how to operate under Putin’s radar, because they are the ones in charge of the radar itself. And while it is reasonable to assume Putin has some means to monitor the siloviki, he will not be able to follow their actions constantly and with great precision, given all the other issues on his plate.”

Is Putin likely to be ousted?

Although Ukraine’s claims of an elite uprising against Mr Putin have not been substantiated, the potential of the dictator’s ousting has been previously entertained.

In an interview with The Independent, an aide of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny posited that Russia could see a “real change of government” within five years, as dissent towards the Ukraine war intensifies. Interestingly, prior to Mr Navalny’s imprisonment, the politician had suggested that Mr Bortnikov was involved in an attempt to poison him, under instructions given by Mr Putin. Mscow however, have refuted the claims.

“The war is not popular and the economic decline is not going to be popular. I think it brings forward the demise of Putin’s regimen,” said Vladimir Ashurkov, who works for Mr Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. Created in 2011, the Kremlin classified the it as an “extremist” organisation in 2021.

“I think we will see increasingly widespread dissent in the business and political elite, and mass dissatisfaction in the population – I think this will lead to big political change.

“I think that it’s likely that we see a real change of government within five years. At what cost? How exactly will it happen? That remains to be seen.”

This comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was prepared to begin negotiations with Mr Putin. Mr Zelensky has previously said that in order for a resolution to occur, Moscow would need to guarantee the sovereignty, security and land rights of Ukraine.

“I think it’s just the two of us, me and Putin, who can make an agreement on this,” he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

“I think that we have to use any format, any chance in order to have a possibility of negotiating, possibility of talking to Putin.

“If these attempts fail, that would mean that this is a third world war.”



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