Vladimir Putin is ‘mortally wounded’ and his fight to cling to power has only just begun, it was claimed last night.
Western officials warned that his grip on Russia is crumbling as questions mounted over his whereabouts following the attempted coup.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested that the whirlwind 24-hour mutiny led by the head of a Russian renegade army, Yevgeny Prigozhin, showed ‘real cracks’ in Putin’s hold on power.
Alicia Kearns, chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, warned that Putin may launch a desperate purge to survive.
The senior Tory MP raised the prospect that Russian intelligence may have hidden the impending coup from Putin as it emerged that both Britain and the US had intelligence that the Wagner Group leader was building up forces near the Russian/Ukraine border for several days.
Western officials warned that his grip on Russia is crumbling as questions mounted over his whereabouts following the attempted coup
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested that the whirlwind 24-hour mutiny led by the head of a Russian renegade army, Yevgeny Prigozhin, showed ‘real cracks’ in Putin’s hold on power
Blindsided, the Russian military had to scramble to defend Moscow as Prigozhin’s soldiers moved unimpeded into the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and advanced to within 120 miles of the capital.
Yesterday Ms Kearns said the British Government had known for several days. Sources in the US claimed Congressional leaders were also briefed on the Wagner build-up earlier last week, contradicting Prigozhin’s claim that his rebellion was a response to a Friday attack on his camps in Ukraine by the Russian military.
‘I think our Government knew for a few days that something was coming,’ she said. ‘That means Russian intelligence should clearly have had some idea. Did Russian intelligence not believe he was capable of marching on Moscow or did they lie to Putin because they were scared of him?
The revelation came after an electrifying day of drama as:
Jets linked to Putin returned to Moscow yesterday after fleeing the city on Saturday.
In Ukraine, gleeful forces made key gains on the battlefield as Putin faced the prospect of having to remove both his defence minister and the chief of general staff as the price of halting the coup.
Wagner forces claimed they had downed Russian helicopters and a military plane, reportedly killing 39 pilots and crew, inflicting the worst daily air force loss of the war.
On Saturday Prigozhin, the ruthless head of the 25,000-strong mercenary group, was greeted as a hero after he sensationally abandoned his group’s march on Moscow at the 11th hour.
In a deal brokered by Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko, Prigozhin agreed to call off his advance in return for having criminal charges against him and his followers dropped, with the additional inducement of a multi-million payout in exile.
But there are signs that Putin’s battle for survival is far from over. Ms Kearns said the gates were open for others to challenge the Russian leader: ‘This is definitely not over,’ she said. ‘This is not just a power struggle between Putin and Prigozhin. It has raised questions about the wholescale stability of the country.
‘No one believes that Prigozhin is going to Belarus and live out his life quietly there. Putin … is mortally wounded but I don’t think anyone can say Putin is finished. There is nothing more that Putin hates than a traitor.
Prigozhin’s whereabouts were unknown last night, with no sign that he has arrived safely in Belarus. A spokesman for Prigozhin told Russian broadcaster RTVI he was ‘out of contact’.
It came as Mr Blinken said he didn’t believe ‘we’ve seen the final act’ in the Wagner-Putin rebellion. ‘Sixteen months ago, Russian forces were at the doorstep of Kyiv, in Ukraine, thinking they’d take the city in a matter of days, thinking they would erase Ukraine from the map as an independent country,’ he told CBS News.
He added: ‘Prigozhin himself, in this entire incident, has raised profound questions about the very premises for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in the first place, saying that Ukraine or Nato did not pose a threat to Russia, which is part of Putin’s narrative. And it was a direct challenge to Putin’s authority. So this raises profound questions, it shows real cracks.’
Western leaders have expressed concern over the turmoil in Russia, which has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.
Daniel Hoffman, the CIA’s former Moscow station chief, suggested a rogue Russian leader could steal a nuclear warhead if Putin’s grip on power falters.
Putin has not been seen since he made a pre-recorded address on Saturday when he said he was ‘confident’ his forces would realise its plans related to the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine.
Two jets linked to the president left Moscow on Saturday but have since returned to the city, according to flightradar24 data. It is unclear whether he was on board.