Putin could be overthrown and replaced by someone even more extreme, former UK spy chief warns
Vladimir Putin is likely to be overthrown as part of a “coup” – but his replacement could be far worse, a former UK spy chief has warned.
The Russian president has intensified the bombardment on Ukrainian cities in recent days following a series of battlefield setbacks, with Liz Truss and the G7 accusing him of committing war crimes.
The air strikes follow a series of battlefield humiliations and a high-profile attack on the strategically important Kerch Bridge last weekend, that have prompted Putin to respond in a series of deadly attacks that have killed many civilians.
But Sir Alex Younger, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service from 2014 to 2020, believes Putin's latest actions are a further example of the weak position the Russian president is now in six months after the invasion was launched.
Younger believes the current “intensive bombardment” is a sign that Putin is “out of options” and “has no choice but to double down” to appease domestic forces that want him to show ever-increasing displays of strength towards Ukraine and the West.
Asked what could trigger a coup in the Kremlin that would depose Putin, Younger told BBC’s Newsnight: “Putin is in danger of being outflanked by the very political constituency he created – the chauvinistic, nationalistic, arguably fascistic right-wing…
“That was his support base that is now castigating him for not going far and harder enough.
"These measures – that he didn’t want to introduce because he knows how counter-productive they can be – are entirely for a domestic audience and designed to neuter that aspect of the politics.
Younger added that the potential downside of a coup is that any successor to Putin could be even more extreme.
“We have to be careful what we wish for," he said. "I think he will be replaced in due course by critics on the [extreme] right.”
Watch: Kyiv clean-up operation begins after Russian strikes
Younger's comments come after Russia launched a further wave of missile and drone strikes on Tuesday, hitting power plants and civilian areas across Ukraine.
The blasts followed a barrage which killed 19 and injured scores more in cities including Ukraine’s capital Kyiv on Monday.
Moscow also struck a power plant in the Vinnytsia region on Wednesday, while rescuers were attempting to work in the aftermath of a previous bombing.
The shift in the Kremlin’s strategy to attacks on civilian areas and infrastructure followed Ukraine’s strike against the strategically and symbolically important Kerch Bridge linking Russia to the annexed Crimean peninsula.
Sir Jeremy Fleming, the head of the GCHQ intelligence agency said Putin’s regime was becoming increasingly desperate as it ran short of weapons, allies and troops.
Fleming said Moscow still had a “very capable military machine” despite the shortcomings, although it was being stretched by the conflict.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We believe that Russia is running short of munitions, it’s certainly running short of friends and we have seen, because of the declaration for mobilisation, that it is running short of troops.”
Fleming said Moscow’s commanders were “worried about the state of their military machine”, adding: “The word I have used is ‘desperate’ and we can see that desperation at many levels inside Russian society and inside the Russian military machine.”
After crisis talks, the prime minister and the G7 leaders issued a statement vowing to “hold president Putin and those responsible to account”.
The group rejected the “illegal attempted annexation” of four areas of Ukraine and vowed to step up sanctions against Moscow.
The leaders also warned Moscow that any use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons would have “severe consequences”.
US president Joe Biden said that he “does not think” that Putin will use a nuclear weapon, while last week Moscow insisted it was "fully committed" to avoiding a nuclear war.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky addressed leaders from the G7 – the US, the UK, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and the European Union – at a virtual meeting on Tuesday.
They assured him they remain “undeterred and steadfast” in their support for his nation.
The G7 also said any “just peace” should include respect for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and could also include reparation funding from Russia.