A small group of Russian insiders expresses concerns over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, citing potentially devastating political and economic shocks that could send Russia back by decades.

Bloomberg had spoken to 10 Russian insiders who have direct knowledge of what was happening behind the scenes. According to their sources, critics of the invasion remain limited at the very top of Russia’s power structure. However, this number has been consistently growing across senior government officials and state-run enterprises.

The ten Russian insiders spoke under the condition of anonymity to protect themselves from the possible consequences of their statements.

Sources say there is currently no chance that Putin will pull out of the war in Ukraine and no hope that someone from the inside will step up and challenge the Russian president. Putin has further narrowed down his inner circle to a limited group of hardliners he trusts.

The decision to invade Ukraine was made by Putin and a handful of his closest advisors. This includes Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov.

Support for Putin’s invasion remains strong among the Russian elite, with many embracing the Kremlin narrative that the invasion was necessary to prepare for the inevitable conflict with the West that has expanded its influence closer to Russia.

Meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces - First Deputy Defense Minister Valery Gerasimov (Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vladimir_Putin,_Sergey_Shoigu,_Valery_Gerasimov_(2018-04-20).jpg
Meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces – First Deputy Defense Minister Valery Gerasimov (Kremlin.ruCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Many are also buying into the ability of the Russian economy to adapt to the economic sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies. This was further cemented after the Russian economy appears to be slowly regaining momentum after the drastic shocks from sanctions.

Nonetheless, a growing number of top Russian insiders have concluded that Putin’s commitment to his conquest of Ukraine will eventually spell doom for Russia. They believe that, if Putin continues, Russia will be pushed to years of isolation and heightened tension that will leave the Russian economy in shambles, its national security compromised, and its international influence soiled. The report also cites a handful of business leaders releasing statements that question Putin’s strategy. However, the most influential ones remain fearful of the possible repercussions of voicing out.

However, there are signs that Russia’s closed circle of elites indeed disagrees with Putin’s war. SOFREP reported last March 23rd that Putin’s longtime adviser and climate envoy Anatoly Chubais had quit on Putin on the grounds of his personal opposition to the war. Chubais is also known to be the architect of Russia’s privatization movement in the 90s. Reports saw him in Turkey trying to withdraw from an ATM, which indicates that he had fled Russia.

Even more recently, Russian businessman Oleg Tinkov and founder of Tinkov bank, had actually condemned Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in what was one of the rare occasions that a Russian oligarch had been vocal about their personal views on the war. He called Putin’s war a “crazy war” and that 90% of Russians did not support it.

“I don’t see a single beneficiary of this crazy war! Innocent people and soldiers are dying,” he wrote in Russian through Instagram. “Of course, there are morons who draw Z, but 10% of any country are morons. 90% of Russians are AGAINST this war!” he wrote.

“The (Russian) generals, waking up with a hangover, realized that they had a shit army,” Tinkov said. “And how could the army be good if everything else in the country is shit and mired in nepotism, sycophancy, and servility?”

He then switched to English and directly addressed western leaders to give Putin a clear exit to “stop this massacre.” Tinkov then said, “Please be rational and more humanitarian.”

Putin Unfazed

These Russian insiders were caught off guard by the speed and extent of the response by the West, with foreign companies withdrawing their decades’ worth of foreign investment from Russia and economic sanctions preventing the Central Bank of Russia from accessing over half of its reserve fortress. They also did not expect Europe and the US to provide a constant stream of weapons and equipment to the Ukrainians to help deter and neutralize the invasion force.

Senior officials have tried to warn the Russian president that the economic setback from the sanctions can erase over two decades of progress Putin has made during his reign.

Russian Vladimir Putin giving speech during a celebration marking the anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia at the Luzhniki Sports Centre in Moscow 2022 (Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:President_Vladimir_Putin_speech_Crimea_reunification_anniversary_2022,_Pic_1.jpg
Russian Vladimir Putin giving a speech during a celebration marking the anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia at the Luzhniki Sports Centre in Moscow 2022 (Kremlin.ruCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Putin dismissed the warnings, saying that Russia has been backed into a corner by the West and has no other choice but to invade Ukraine. While he admitted that this would come at a huge cost for Russia, the Russian President believes that the “economic blitzkrieg” has peaked, and the economy will begin to adapt moving forward.

It appears that Putin is determined to continue fighting even if the invasion turns into a bloodbath for Ukraine’s Donbas region. He believes that the Russian public is supporting him in this endeavor and is prepared to endure years of suffering to achieve his personal agenda.

“Putin has built his regime mainly on stoking public support, which has given him the means to control the elite,” R.Politik Consultant Tatiana Stanovaya said.

“There’s no room for disagreement or discussion, everyone must just get on with it and implement the president’s orders, and as long as Putin keeps the situation under control, people will follow him.”

Russia and Its Potential to Use Nukes

The report’s sources echo the fears of some US officials that Putin might resort to the limited use of tactical nuclear weapons in his desperation to achieve a victory in Ukraine.

Since the launch of the invasion, the world has seen the abysmal performance of the Russian army, barely making significant gains in Ukraine during the earlier siege toward Kyiv, which was successfully thwarted. The Russian forces have also lost thousands of men and a surprising number of high-ranking officers during the war, which further complicates their situation.

Experts are concerned about how Putin will act to these failures and how they may push him to use weapons of mass destruction. A month ago, Putin put Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert, essentially signaling his willingness to use nukes if need be. Most military observers believed that this was just a move to try and scare the West. However, as expected, the move was harshly criticized by NATO.

A nuclear capable RS-24 Yars during the Moscow Victory Day Parade in 2019 (Mil.ru, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Moscow_Victory_Day_Parade_(2019)_08.jpg
A nuclear-capable RS-24 Yars during the Moscow Victory Day Parade in 2019 (Mil.ruCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Tactical nuclear weapons prove to be less powerful than their traditional counterparts. They make smaller blasts and are designed to take out military facilities rather than cities. However, experts warn that this can make them more appealing to use.

“Tactical nuclear weapons exist because each side fears it would be deterred from using its big city-razing weapons by their very destructiveness. By making nuclear weapons smaller and the targeting more precise, their use becomes more thinkable,” Brown University political scientist Nina Tannenwald wrote.

“Paradoxically, while this makes deterrence threats more credible, it also makes the arms more tempting to use first, rather than simply in retaliation.”