Ukrainian government agency says Alexander Bortnikov could replace Vladimir Putin

A Ukrainian government body has revealed Vladimir Putin’s potential successor, hinting that Russia’s elite have hatched a plan to impeach the president.

Ukraine’s intelligence agency has shared reports that Russia’s elite are planning to remove Vladimir Putin from the presidency of Russia.

Citing methods such as “poisoning, sudden illness and accident”, the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU) said an influential group in the country’s political and business establishment could install the director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of Russia, Alexander Bortnikov, to the highest post. Russian authorities have yet to respond to the allegations.

“Their goal is to oust Putin from power as soon as possible and to restore economic ties with the West, destroyed by the war in Ukraine,” the agency wrote on its official Facebook page.

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“It is known that Bortnikov and some other influential representatives of the Russian elite are considering various options to oust Putin from power. In particular, poisoning, sudden illness or any other “coincidence” is not excluded. »

The DIU also cites Russia’s military failures as a potential reason for Putin’s departure.

Who is Alexander Bortnikov?

Considered part of Mr. Putin’s inner circle, Mr. Bortnikov has served as FSB director since 2008.

The secret organization – which took over from the Soviet Union’s KGB when it was disbanded in the early 1990s – oversees general matters of national security, border security, counter-terrorism and counterintelligence. Mr. Putin and Mr. Bortnikov also worked for the KGB in Leningrad before it was disbanded in 1991.

Mr. Bortnikov is also a key member of the Russian siloviki. Translated into “people of strength” or “strong men”, this is the term given to former military personnel who now hold political positions. Other notable siloviki include Nikolai Patrushev (the Secretary of the Security Council and predecessor of Mr. Bortnikov’s FSB) and Sergei Naryshkin – the director of the Foreign Intelligence Service.

Since February 22, 2022, Mr. Bortnikov and his son Denis – who is vice-president of one of Russia’s largest state-owned banks – have been sanctioned by the US, EU and UK.

The siloviki: a key threat to Putin

This is not the first time members of the siloviki have been flagged as a potential challenge to Mr Putin’s regime. According to a former Russian CIA intelligence official, Steven L. Hall, the military elite pose a “real threat” to the president.

“Men like Patrushev and Bortnikov not only possess hard power, but they know how to use it and are inclined to do so,” he wrote for The Washington Post.

“The siloviki are ready to use this deadly mix of hard power and secrecy when a serious threat to Russia’s kleptocratic system emerges.”

And the delicate balance between military dominance, political influence and the wealth of the oligarchs who make up Russia’s “kleptocratic autocracy” is currently threatened by Western sanctions and Mr. Putin’s costly war against Ukraine, wrote Mr. Hall.

However, while the oligarchs lack the brute force to oust Mr. Putin, the siloviki do.

“They have weapons and personnel to threaten Putin,” he said.

“They know how to operate under Putin’s radar, because they are the ones in charge of the radar itself. And while it is reasonable to assume that Putin has some means to monitor the siloviki, he will not be able to track their actions constantly and with great precision, given all the other issues on his plate.

Is Putin likely to be ousted?

Although Ukraine’s claims of an elite uprising against Mr Putin have not been substantiated, the possibility of ousting the dictator has already been mooted.

In an interview with The Independent, an aide to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny has postulated that Russia could see a “genuine change of government” within five years as dissent against the war in Ukraine escalates. Interestingly, prior to Mr Navalny’s imprisonment, the politician had hinted that Mr Bortnikov was involved in an attempted poisoning, under instructions given by Mr Putin. Mscow, however, refuted the allegations.

“War is not popular and economic decline will not be popular. I think it heralds the end of Putin’s regime,” said Vladimir Ashurkov, who works for Mr Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. Created in 2011, the Kremlin classified it as an “extremist” organization in 2021.

“I think we will see more and more widespread dissent in the business and political elite, and mass discontent in the population – I think that will lead to big political change.

“I think it is likely that we will see a real change of government within five years. At what price ? How exactly will this happen? That remains to be seen.”

It comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he is ready to start negotiations with Mr Putin. Mr Zelensky has previously said that for a resolution to come about, Moscow would have to guarantee Ukraine’s sovereignty, security and land rights.

“I think it’s just the two of us, me and Putin, who can make a deal on this,” he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

“I think we have to use any format, any chance to have a chance to negotiate, a chance to talk to Putin.

“If these attempts fail, it would mean that this is a third world war.”