The grim fate of Vladimir Putin is becoming more and more visible to all

Vladimir Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Vladimir Putin is a “sissy” who “doesn’t give a shit about the people”. So running a leaked recording of an alleged phone conversation between Iosif Prigozhin, a Russian music producer, and billionaire Farkhad Achmedov. While personal contempt for former allies may sting, it’s the overt political predictions in the call that will keep Putin up at night.

“There’s going to be fascism there, that’s going to happen… a military dictatorship,” says a voice identified as Akhmedov, ostensibly about Russia’s future. Such views, when they are customary, will be held catastrophic effects for Putin’s legitimacy – and possibly for his continued hold on power.

The Russian autocrat is nothing without his clique of billionaire allies, many of whom he has bolstered through decades of systemic corruption. These oligarchs seem increasingly dissatisfied with his ruinous handling of the war in Ukraine, which has left him a quarter million Russians dead or wounded and billions wiped from the Russian stock market. The oligarchs know that at some point they may be faced with a choice, either watch as their finances continue to be hit by sanctions and their yachts and mansions confiscated across Europe, or win their political support and back a successor.

In this context, the revelation that Russian elites may already have begun to contemplate a “post-Putin” Russia is intriguing. It is a sign of how concerned the Kremlin is that pro-Putin state media and propaganda organizations have remained silent on the matter. For his part, Prigozhin claimed the leak was fake, before adding that there are “some real things here.”

Domestically, Putin’s legitimacy is suffering after a disastrous winter on the battlefield that has seen mounting Russian casualties with no tactical or operational victories. Some intelligence analysts whisper that they wouldn’t be surprised if they woke up one morning to find Putin “in the hospital,” “incapacitated,” or simply gone, with much speculation that the defense secretary is a longtime Putin ally Sergei Shoigu might be his turn to replace him.

Despite his sinister warfare, Shoigu understands the military situation of Russian forces better than many in the Kremlin; low staff and morale, roll out 70 year old platforms, with renewed Ukrainian offensives on the near horizon. Could be well placed to do a tricky balancing act.

Putin’s successor will have to balance the Russian people’s desire for continuity with an end to the blood and treasure sacrifices that are bleeding Russia dry in Ukraine. This could result in a diplomatic settlement that could come very close to defeat. Kyiv would likely have the military and diplomatic upper hand in the negotiations and will refuse to make concessions on the status of Crimea and other occupied territories.

To get here, the West must continue to provide the arms and armaments that will keep the war going in Kiev, while also being ready to confront a new Russian leadership at any time. As much as the leaked tapes may reveal the dissent within “billionaire Moscow,” it is ultimately defeat on the battlefield that will end Putin’s barbaric war against Ukraine and Europe – and with it his own rule.

Robert Clark is the director of the think tank’s defense and security division Civitas. He previously served in the British Army

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