Anti-Russia activists and former Russian lawmakers opposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin have been gathering in Poland in recent days to discuss what removing Putin from power would look like nearly nine months into his war in Ukraine.
Some of the scenarios the anti-Russia group discussed include Russians staging a civil war, taking up arms, and killing Putin, according to Euractiv.
A guerrilla fight may be the only way to take down Putin, said opposition activist Viacheslav Maltsev. “The main goal is to physically eliminate Putin,” Maltsev said.
“The fight against terrorists requires terrorists’ methods,” one politician present said, according to Gazeta Wyborcza.
Ilya Ponomarev, a former member of the State Duma and the only Russian lawmaker to vote against annexing Crimea in 2014, arranged the gathering, and has said he is organizing an underground resistance movement in recent months. Some have expressed doubts about whether he actually leads a coalition of rebels, while others have questioned if he has become too radical and violent, as The Daily Beast reported. Allies of opposition leader Alexey Navalny did not participate in the gathering, according to Euractiv.
Regardless of Ponomarev’s claims and tactics, though, the gathering in Poland this weekend is just the latest signal that those opposed to Putin are growing more vocal by the day.
The chatter of a Putin ouster comes as he struggles to make gains in his war in Ukraine, with dissent for his war growing in Russia. Ukrainian forces have been gaining momentum since they began mounting counteroffensives against Russian forces in the south and northeast of Ukraine, forcing Russians to retreat. And in a push to replace those lost on the battlefield, Putin announced a “partial mobilization” for eligible Russian men—but instead of responding with support, hundreds of thousands of Russians responded with a massive exodus from the nation to flee conscription.
Russian officials in St. Petersburg and Moscow have also called for Putin’s ouster in recent months. Elite circles in Russia are also starting to rally behind the idea that Putin needs to leave power, according to a close former aide of Putin’s, his speechwriter, Abbas Gallyamov.
Although various groups interested in Putin losing power have different ideas about how to go about ensuring his downfall, according to former senior members of the U.S. intelligence community, Putin’s ouster very well may be violent and come all of a sudden.
“Nobody’s gonna ask, ‘Hey Vladimir, would you like to leave?’ No. It’s a fucking hammer to the head and he’s dead. Or it’s time to go to the sanatorium,” Daniel Hoffman, a former CIA Moscow chief of station, told The Daily Beast. “They schwack him for it. That’s what they’ll do.”
Even Putin’s closest allies have been criticizing him in recent days in what could be a signal that Putin’s hold on power—and his future as a leader—is disintegrating.
Yevgeniy Prigozhin, or “Putin’s chef,” known for his election interference targeting U.S. elections, and for leading the mercenary Wagner Group, has begun pushing a narrative that he is the one man who can win the war in Ukraine. Just last month, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, another Putin crony, announced on social media he was “very unhappy” with the way the war was progressing, calling Russia’s performance “weak.”
Prigozhin has begun narrating his own thoughts on leadership and how to win the war.
“To become stronger, to win, you need to treat the opponent with respect,” Prigozhin said early this month, according to Reuters. “Don’t underestimate him. Always look for flaws in yourself, and see what’s good and important that can be learned from the experience of the enemy.”
Some of Russia’s closest partners on the world stage, including China and India, have also sought to distance themselves from Russia in recent weeks. Chinese President Xi Jinping called on other countries to “reject the threat of nuclear weapons and advocate against a nuclear war to prevent a crisis on the Eurasian continent,” just as Russia has begun hinting that it may resort to nuclear weapons.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who spoke with Xi last week, said they agreed that Russia would cross a line if it used nuclear weapons.
India’s defense minister, Rajnath Singh, noted last week that “the nuclear option should not be resorted to” when Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, confronted him with his suspicion that Ukraine might use a dirty bomb and try to frame Russia as the culprit behind it.
The Biden administration and western leaders have denounced Russia’s alleged concerns about Ukraine using a dirty bomb and suggested that Putin himself might be planning to use a dirty bomb or try to frame Ukraine.
Resistance is building in Belarus, a close ally of Russia, as well. Belarus’ opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, recently proposed an alliance with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, to better push against Russia’s goals in the war and in Europe, as The Daily Beast reported.