After a series of battlefield losses in Ukraine, pressure is mounting in Russia for Vladimir Putin to call it quits.
And he may not be serving in his role much longer, according to Abbas Gallyamov, Putin’s former speechwriter.
“Putin’s image is tarnished,” Gallyamov told CNN on Thursday. “The next thing which is going to happen in Russian politics within the next like several months, maybe up to half a year, is the elites will start looking for a successor.”
Gallyamov isn’t the only one reading between the lines. A group of officials in St. Petersburg and Moscow have begun calling for Putin’s ouster. Some of the officials have accused Putin of high treason for invading Ukraine. Since demanding Putin step down, a court in Russia has ordered the dissolution of a municipal council that wants Putin out of office.
Putin himself has taken a step back from some of his duties in recent days following crushing defeats in southern and northeastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian armed forces have staged multiple counteroffensives, sending Russian forces retreating. Putin canceled a meeting with top military brass and defense industry representatives in order to take in the news of the losses, an adviser said. Putin acknowledged during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday that China has “concerns” about Russia’s war in Ukraine, a subtle nod to Russia’s key geopolitical partner having some doubts about the course the war has taken.
Putin’s options to make a comeback on the battlefield remain thin. As of Thursday, Ukrainians liberated Novovorontsovska, the Kochubeivska, the Vysokopolska, and the Velykooleksandrivska communities in the Beryslav district, Dmytro Slivchenko, the head of the Beryslav District Council, said. Ukrainians have retaken approximately 8,000 square kilometers in recent days in the counteroffensives, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. And European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen indicated Thursday during a visit to Kyiv that the European Union will continue to back Ukraine in the days ahead.
“It’s absolutely vital and necessary to support Ukraine with the military equipment they need to defend themselves. And they have proven that they are able to do this, if they are well equipped,” she said.
Putin’s forces, many of which have been retreating in the face of Ukraine’s onslaught, have been petering out for some time now, sabotaging their own equipment. Putin has become so desperate he has tried to create a new fighting force made up of “recruited” prisoners. But at this stage in the conflict, if Putin were to lean on a broader mobilization or draft, the public would revolt, Gallyamov predicted.
“If Putin starts making this national draft, he really faces the danger of riots,” Galyamov said. “Russians are not willing to go to wage this war. They are not ready to go and sacrifice their lives, especially at the moment when the Ukrainians are advancing and Russians are retreating.”
“It’s not clear if his loyal… National Guard will really suppress those riots like before, because now, those national guards… definitely they’re no longer as loyal,” Gallyamov said.
One Russian politician, the head of Russia’s Communist Party, said this week a mobilization would be necessary in the coming days to address the dire needs of the conflict.
“The maximum mobilization of forces and resources is now required,” Gennady Zyuganov said, acknowledging that Putin’s “special” military operation—which has been branded as a limited operation previously—is indeed a war.
“The special military operation…in Ukraine has turned into a full-fledged war,” Zyuganov said. “A war and a special operation differ at their core… A war cannot be ended, even if you want: You take it to the very end, either victory or defeat.”
The Kremlin doesn’t seem intent on taking steps towards mobilization just yet, however. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said early this week there are no discussions ongoing about a full or partial mobilization.
For now, Russian forces are trying to keep up the fight in Ukraine, and have kept up missile strikes against civilian infrastructure in recent hours, including in Kryvyi Rih, Nikopol, Hulyaipole, and Myrne.
“The enemy continues to focus its efforts on attempts to fully occupy the Donetsk oblast, hold the captured territories and disrupt the active actions of our troops in certain areas,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Thursday.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk Regional Military Administration, said Russian missiles in the Donetsk region killed 2 people and injured 13 civilians Wednesday.