Vladimir Putin faces the prospect of a devastating Kremlin civil war after vicious infighting broke out among various political factions inside his administration. The Russian leader is in the process of trying to reassert his authority after being seriously weakened by the recent Wagner mutiny. The mutineers came within a whisker of toppling Putin and ending his 23-year reign in Russia.
As the revolt unfolded, the Kremlin tyrant and his cronies watched on in horror as the public welcomed Wagner fighters as heroes and the military failed to intervene.
Putin has since moved to neutralise Wagner and has unleashed a purge of senior military officers, as he desperately tries to cling to power.
But those efforts could be seriously undermined by a new political crisis engulfing the Kremlin.
Colonel Mikhail Polyakov, a former FSB officer, was taken into custody on Friday on suspicion of stealing information from private citizens, hacking emails, extortion and blackmail.
However, Russian sources believe his arrest had more to do with the current fierce battle among elites to control the information space.
Kremlin factions view the information space as a vital source of authority that allows them to attack their enemies and push their own political and economic agendas.
Colonel Polyakov is said to run several popular channels on the social media platform Telegram, which is widely used in Russia.
A Russian blogger going by the name “BRIEF” wrote on their Telegram channel: “It is known that Mikhail Polyakov was actively involved in the Internet, was a significant figure and was in contact with the leadership of the administration of internal politics.
“The colonel led a number of projects, including the organisation of the Youth Festival in Sochi, which is supervised by Sergei Kiriyenko.”
Sergei Kiriyenko is a former Russian prime minister and is the current First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration with close ties to Putin. He also controls several Telegram channels.
The former FSB officer is also believed to have had frequent contact with factions inside the Ministry of Defence and is suspected of having leaked the audio of Major General Ivan Popov’s criticisms of Putin’s top brass to social media.
The Major General, who commanded Russia’s 58th Combined Arms Army, was recently removed from his post.
In an audio message meant for his troops, the senior officer claimed he had been sacked because he had told his superiors the truth about what was happening on the battlefield and accused Russia’s top brass of treachery.
In further signs of tensions within the Kremlin, Maxim Parshin, a Deputy Minister for Digital Development, was also arrested, allegedly for bribery.
However, Russian commentators again say his arrest was related to the inter-Kremlin fight for control over the online information space.
Analysts from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) say the latest bout of Kremlin infighting was probably sparked by the Wagner mutiny, as officials scramble to protect themselves from the political fallout.
In its latest intelligence bulletin, ISW said: “Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny may also have impelled Russian officials to seek to discredit or eliminate opponents who control some of the insider Telegram sources to maintain their standings or positions.”