Russian insiders are allegedly secretly looking for replacements for Russian President Vladimir Putin in the event that the war in Ukraine kicks him out of power or he succumbs to poor health, according to independent Russian news site Meduza.

The perception of the Russian elites on Putin’s “special military operation” has flipped several times over the course of three months. Initially, Russian oligarchs were taken aback by the move to go to war against Ukraine. Soon, the anxiety was replaced by a wave of patriotism, with several key Russian figures standing by Putin’s decision.

However, as the war drags on and as the West continues to cripple the Russian economy with sanctions, pessimism against the conflict is once again gaining momentum.

“It won’t be possible to live like before. Any talk of development is out the window. But life goes on. There are gray imports. There’s trade with China and India,” a Kremlin insider told Meduza.

Consequently, the Kremlin is beginning to realize that the Russian populace is now too invested in the war in Ukraine, which blocks off any opportunity for Putin to simultaneously strike a peace deal and save his approval rating.

For weeks, Moscow has readjusted its war goals to appear as if it was able to achieve what it set out to do in an attempt to save face. However, this has been met with further losses on the battlefield.

“There’s probably almost nobody who’s happy with Putin. Businesspeople and many cabinet members are unhappy that the president started this war without thinking through the scale of the sanctions,” a source close to the Kremlin said, describing the mood among the elites.

“Normal life under these sanctions is impossible. The ‘hawks’ are mad about the pace of the ‘special operation’; they think more decisive action is possible,” they added. Even so, a small detachment of insiders believes Russia has gone past the point of no return, hence must go all out.

“They figure, since we’re entangled there already, there’s no going soft now. We need to go even harder,” one source said.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, 2013 (Government.ruCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

This situation was actually brought up by SOFREP Editor-in-chief Sean Spoonts a few weeks ago when the SOFREP team had been discussing the Russo-Ukrainian War. Russia seems to be stuck in a hard place, specifically Putin, who risks losing his credibility and strongman image if he does stop his invasion now. Conceding and giving up has never been Putin’s attitude towards anything, and he wouldn’t do anything to tarnish his image further in Russia. However, the evidence does suggest that he is becoming somewhat unpopular in his own home country, as suggested by these reports of coup d’etat such as this one.

Recently, Russian forces in Ukraine’s eastern region have become increasingly aggressive in trying to push out Ukrainian defenders. Ukrainian Defense Ministry Spokesperson

Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said on Tuesday that we are now seeing “the most active phase” of Russian aggression since the war began in February.

“The situation on the (eastern) front is extremely difficult because the fate of this country is perhaps being decided (there) right now,” Motuzyanyk said.

Despite growing dissent, there is no direct attempt to oust Putin among his inner circle, but ‌conversations are centered on finding a successor to the president.

“It’s not that they want to overthrow Putin right now or that they’re plotting a conspiracy, but there’s an understanding (or a wish) that he won’t be governing the state maybe in the foreseeable future.”

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The Meduza reported a list of potential replacements for the current Russian president. This includes National Security Council Deputy Chairman and former President Dmitry Medvedev, Mayor Sergey Sobyanin of Moscow, and First Deputy Chief of Staff Sergey Kiriyenko, among others. In other reports, FSB Chief Alexander Bortnikov was also rumored to be one of the top candidates to replace Putin.

However, all information coming out of Russia currently cannot be verified. Thus, rumors and reports of deposing the Russian President are best taken with a grain of salt.

Russia is a security state which harsh laws against real or perceived disloyalty to the state. Putin maintains under his personal control the Russian National Guard numbering some 400,000 troops outside the control of the army general staff.  This is a potential check against any threat coming from his generals.

Russia’s One Way Out

Russian oligarchs are under the impression that the only feasible way to loosen Putin’s grip in Russia is to wait for the president’s own health to get the best of him. Rumors of Putin’s declining mental and physical health have circled the news media for some time.

Award-winning director Oliver Stone has revealed in a podcast that the Russian president has been battling cancer for the past couple of years. Stone cited the two-year period he was given special access to Putin while filming a series on the president and Russia. He added ‌that Putin believed he had overcome the illness, but it appears to have recurred.

Former agent in the MI6, Christopher Steele, cited sources stating that Putin is forced to take frequent breaks because of his faltering health. He noted this has caused the Russian president to lose control over Russia’s affairs, adding that there is “no clear leadership” in his absence.

Most recently, One Russian oligarch was secretly recorded talking about how Putin is “very ill with blood cancer.” According to New Lines magazine, a Western venture capitalist taped their conversation with an oligarch without their consent.

According to the recording, Putin’s back problems, which have been well reported in the past, are linked to blood cancer. It added that the president got back surgery in October last year.

New Lines claims to have authenticated the voice in the clip but did not disclose the name of the oligarch or the venture capitalist for obvious security reasons. It is important to note that this claim could not be independently verified.

Despite mounting claims about Putin’s deteriorating health condition, Western authorities have remained cautious about taking these rumors at face value.

“My observation is that at the moment, President Putin is firmly in control of his inner circle, the country, and the decisions which are being made, irrespective of any speculation about his health. President Putin is still the decision-maker,” one Western official said.