A secretive plot to oust Russian Leader Vladimir Putin could already be in progress, says former CIA Moscow station boss Daniel Hoffman.
No-one will see it coming, Hoffman predicts – least of all Putin himself after his inner circle reportedly look set to topple him.
The “hammer blow” will come out of the blue with the alleged plot to go ahead before Putin suspects them first.
“These guys that are going to do it are going to be so secret about it so that Putin doesn’t find them and kill them first,” Hoffman said. “It’ll happen all of a sudden. And he’ll be dead.”
Hoffman says that Putin is safe as long as Russian troops are making some sort of headway in Ukraine, but an embarrassing setback – for example the loss of the Donbas regions – could be fatal for Russia's leader.
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“Nobody’s gonna ask, ‘Hey Vladimir, would you like to leave?’ No. It’s a f**king hammer to the head and he’s dead. Or it’s time to go to the sanatorium,” Hoffman told The Daily Beast. “They schwack him for it. That’s what they’ll do.”
Another former CIA agent agrees. Ronald Marks, whose 16-year career with the agency saw him promoted to the US Senate’s intelligence liaison, notes that Russian leaders rarely get to retire.
Marks said: “They either drop dead in office or someone comes knocking on the door and says, ‘Vladimir Vladimirovich, guess what, it’s time to go. You’re gonna love that dacha down there.’”
When it comes to predicting which members of Putin's inner circle might succeed him, Russia experts tend to pick out the same three names.
Hardliner Nikolai Patrushev, the conspiracy theory-loving head of the Russian security council, is thought of as a Putin loyalist, but could be operating behind the scenes to seize the top job for himself.
Another potential rival is FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov due to the fact that he has already once been implicated in corruption allegations point to a secret power struggle within the Kremlin.
Perhaps the most obvious replacement for Putin, though, is Sergei Shoigu – the Russian Minister of Defence who has been highly visible during the Ukraine campaigns and could offer the Russian public some sense of continuity.
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If Putin is removed from office, Marks predicts, Russia will be plunged into chaos as the main contenders for the top job battle it out.
“There’d be a mad-dash scramble for a few weeks over who gets power,” he said.
“It wouldn’t go to hell right away. We’re not talking about tanks in the street right away. What you’re probably going to see though is among the guys around him, there will be a struggle to take that job.”
At the moment, Marks adds, the Russian Army’s performance in the field is just enough to keep Putin in office: “Russia is making gains now, and they're not going to back off,” Marks said. “Nobody backs off when you’re winning.”
But, as many military experts predict, new shipments of heavy weapons from the West enable President Zelenskyy’s forces to push Russia back, the end could come quickly for Putin.
“If Ukraine by some miracle were able to push these guys out of the Donbas, and make it humiliating for him, I think he's up for grabs,” Marks said.
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