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Russia's Elite Want Putin Out, Successor in Mind: Ukraine Intel Chief

Newsweek logo Newsweek 3/20/2022 Thomas Kika
Ukrainian intelligence officials claim that a group of Russian elites are planning to remove Vladimir Putin from power over the invasion of Ukraine. Above, a shot of Putin during a meeting with other members of the Russian government in March 2022. © Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images Ukrainian intelligence officials claim that a group of Russian elites are planning to remove Vladimir Putin from power over the invasion of Ukraine. Above, a shot of Putin during a meeting with other members of the Russian government in March 2022.

Russian elites are allegedly planning to remove President Vladimir Putin, according to Ukrainian intelligence, with a successor already in mind.

The incendiary claim came from the Chief Directorate of Intelligence for the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine on Sunday via a post on the ministry's official Facebook page. The post boldly begins with, "Poisoning, sudden disease, accident—Russian elite considers the possibility of removing Putin."

"In the environment of the Russian business and political elite, a group of influential persons opposing [Vladimir Putin] is formed," the post reads. "Their goal is to remove Putin from power as soon as possible and restore economic ties with the West, destroyed due to the war in Ukraine."

The alleged group is not only planning to potentially assassinate Putin, the post claims, it has also decided on a potential successor: Alexander Bortnikov, who currently serves as Russia's Federal Security Service director, and headed up the analysis of the Ukrainian population and military capabilities ahead of the recent invasion.

The Chief Directorate claims that Putin and Bortkinov have recently had a falling out, with the Russian president blaming his subordinate for the country's difficulties in taking over Ukraine. Bortkinov is now reportedly working with the group of Russian elites in devising potential ways to remove Putin.

"It is Bortnikov who has recently fallen out of favor with the Russian dictator," the post alleges. "The official reason for the FSS leader's downfall is fatal miscalculations in the war against Ukraine. It was Bortnikov and his department who were responsible for analyzing the views of the Ukrainian population and the capacity of the Ukrainian army."

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While originating from an official Ukrainian government source, there is little actual evidence provided in the post to back up the claims. Amid such a tumultuous conflict, it is important to remember that each side can benefit from narratives that paint the other as increasingly unstable.

Newsweek reached out to the U.S. Russian embassy for a response to these allegations. It also reached out to multiple experts for insight into the post's potential veracity and will update this story once a response is received.

The possibility of Putin being forcibly removed from power, either by assassination or other means, has been an ongoing topic of conversation on the world stage since the invasion of Ukraine started. As that conflict has inflicted immense losses on the Ukrainian people and as crippling economic sanctions have been leveled against Russia as a result, the notion, however controversial, has persisted.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is from South Carolina, has recently come under fire for repeatedly implying that Putin ought to be assassinated to bring about an end to the Ukrainian conflict. Experts warn that such rhetoric could give the impression that the U.S. government supports the antagonistic idea.

"The only way this ends is for somebody in Russia to take this guy out," Graham said tweeted on March 3. "You would be doing your country—and the world—a great service."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki strongly denounced his words and assured the international community that the Biden administration does not advocate for any such action.

"No, we are not advocating for killing the leader of a foreign country or a regime change," Psaki said at a press conference the day after Graham's tweet. "That is not the position of the United States government and certainly not a statement you'd hear come from the mouth of anybody working in this administration."

Updated, 11:50 p.m., 3/21/2022:Added additional context and notes about reporting efforts.

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