Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on his former allies, supporters, and serving generals is leaving him weakened, experts have said.
The Russian leader is reportedly dealing with a central government under strain, with the Wagner failed rebellion having stirred high-profile figures against him.
He has exiled his former close ally and Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin to Belarus, where the remnants of his mercenary forces are training local troops.
He has also acted against Igor Girkin, the Russian former commander and FSB officer deemed responsible for downing Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
Experts have argued that working against his own people shows the leader has prioritised his “grip on power”, something that will ultimately weaken his standing and, by extension, Russia’s.
Girkin, who was sentenced to life in prison in absentia for the act by The Hague, was arrested in Moscow for “inciting terrorism” on Friday, July 21, after criticising the Russian war effort in Ukraine.
FSB agents arrested him at his home and escorted him “in an unknown direction”, his wife Miroslava said in a post on his Telegram account.
The influential Telegram blogger had called for Putin’s replacement, warning Russia “could not survive” under another six years of his rule.
Dmitry Gudkov, an exiled liberal politician, told The Times that the Russian President’s actions show “conflicts are escalating and tension within the system is growing”.
Military analyst Sean Bell concurred and claimed Putin’s mistrust extends to his top generals.
Writing for Sky News, he said Prigozhin’s failed rebellion has left him struggling to “re-establish command and control of Russia’s military forces”.
He said that, above all else, he has focussed on preserving his seat of power and “values loyalty over competence”.
Mr Bell argued that he could improve Russia’s “operational effectiveness” by replacing two men: General Valery Gerasimov and Defence Secretary Sergei Shoigu.
But they would expose him to “enemies” who would close in on his position.
He added that, as Putin tries to root out potential Wagner collaborators, Russia is experiencing a “crisis of command” that, if Ukraine’s counteroffensive proves successful, could leave Russian “courage, bravery and initiative” in “very short supply”.