VLADIMIR Putin’s unquestionable control of Russia is starting to crack as he comes under attack from drone strikes and rebel assaults on his borders.
Russia is being bombarded by swarms of drones, explosive strikes on infrastructure and rogue partisans as the brutal war in Ukraine finally starts to hit home in Moscow.
The war finally landing on his doorstep has seen Putin’s seemingly unshakable grip on power feel its first tremors of doubt – with the sharks of potential successors already starting to circle.
And this wave of attacks could seriously undermine the despot as discontent begins to spread amongst the Russian elite and the people who once thought themselves safe.
Dr Kristian Gustafson, a security expert from Brunel University, told The Sun Online these attacks have “raised the stakes” – and warned if things continue Putin could be “in trouble”.
The strikes, he argued, will stoke infighting in the Kremlin, spread discontent among the powerbroker elite in Moscow, and make people question Vlad’s plan.
Russians have been running for shelter as kamikaze strikes have been falling across the country’s border regions – bringing home the terror Putin has spent 15 months dishing out to civilians in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, aggressive pro-Ukrainian partisans are leading tank-assisted assaults into the border regions, shelling towns and sending Russians fleeing – seemingly invading the invaders.
“These attacks on Moscow increase squabbling in the Kremlin, trouble Putin’s position and drag equipment from the battlefield,” Dr Gustafson said.
In this game of war, “Ukraine has raised the stakes,” he said.
The real danger, the expert claimed, is that “these attacks break through what the Kremlin holds up about what is actually happening in Ukraine”.
“It makes Putin’s position a little less secure and it a little less likely that Russians will believe what they are being told.”
He argued it has set the stage for Ukraine’s looming counteroffensive, which – if it goes well – could pose a genuine threat to the Russian leader.
“If there is a major collapse of one of the fronts as Ukrainian forces thump some sector with enough dynamism and will to break it and it leads to Russian troops surrendering – Putin will be in trouble,” said Gustafson.
On Tuesday, Moscow was blitzed by a wave of drone strikes that reigned down close to the city almost untouched by the war until now.
Russians woke up to the sounds of explosions, which seemed to target wealthy suburbs where oligarchs hide away in luxury resorts.
One drone was shot down reportedly “within earshot” of Vlad’s own estate.
It will challenge the narrative that Putin can protect his country
Dr Kristian Gustafson
Earlier in May, Russia’s propaganda machine claimed Zelensky had tried to assassinate their leader with a drone attack on the Kremlin building, which Kyiv denied responsibility for.
It marks a distinct change from the Ukrainian strikes of past months that have specifically targeted oil, energy and military infrastructure in the border regions.
“The primary aim of Ukraine is to force Russia to move their high-end electronic warfare and air defence systems back into Russia to defend themselves,” said Gustafson.
“These are expensive and rare bits of kit and with them gone, Ukraine can better strike Russian targets at the frontline.”
Russia’s Defence Ministry blasted Ukraine for the “terrorist drone attack” on Moscow, which came only days after Kyiv vowed revenge for recent missile attacks on their capital.
Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief had warned: “All those who tried to intimidate us, dreaming that this would have some effect, you will regret it very soon.
“Our answer will not be long in coming. Soon everyone will see everything.”
In a furious rant, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said he was “deeply outraged” by Putin’s troops doing “f**k all” to stop the barrage of drones reaching the Russian capital.
The raging warlord branded Kremlin military elites “smelly scumbags” for failing to defend Moscow.
It was yet another brazen attack on his superiors that baffled Gustafson.
“I don’t understand Priogzhin’s game, he is angling for power but not to replace Putin, instead he’s engaging in intramural fighting for positions of power in Kremlin.
“Prigozhin is an exception that proves the rule as anyone else would end up ‘falling’ out of a building.”
Dr Dan Lomas, also from Brunel, told The Sun Online: “For Russia, we’ve seen the usual people calling for an escalation, but how?
“Russia is already bombing civilian targets and has killed large numbers of civilians in indiscriminate attacks against towns and cities.
“If Russia can’t be seen to defend its own airspace, that’s a real problem for the Kremlin narrative.”
New strikes, claimed by the Free Russia Legion. in the village of Novaya Tavolzhanka on June 2[/caption]
Yet, Putin’s shaky grip on the war trembled again when anti-Putin partisans stormed across the Russian borders last week and claimed to have seized villages in the Belgorod area.
The rebels, largely belonging to the Free Russia Legion, invaded their homeland accompanied by tanks and drones – the first armed assault on Russian territory since 1969.
They claimed to have taken eight villages, captured a FSB vehicle and destroyed others as Russian officials were forced to evacuate hundreds of civilians.
They returned to Ukraine now emboldened and defiant waving flags and declaring “freedom is near”.
On Thursday, the same rebel group claimed they were close to seizing the border town of Shebekino in a new onslaught into enemy territory.
Russia’s defence ministry confirmed it had battled against the partisan groups, which it branded “terrorist formations”, while claiming to have killed 30 of them.
Air raids have wailed non-stop for days, with some 40,000 Russians said to have evacuated as the town faces relentless shelling.
The pro-Ukrainian saboteurs have made their aim clear – to “liberate” Russia from the tyranny of Kremlin cronies.
Their commander, whose call sign is “Caesar”, has vowed to storm Moscow with his “thousands” of eager new recruits.
Dr Gustafson argued that while Kyiv’s focus isn’t on a Russian uprising, these raids are an important “military goal…They make their counteroffensive more likely to achieve”.
“Pretty much since Ukraine [successfully] defended Kyiv, they have held the military initiative – they decided where the fighting happens.”
Like the drone strikes, the expert said: “These partisans have forced Russia to respond and refocus troops and equipment.
“They are a tool for Ukraine to make Russia viscerally sense the vulnerability at their borders.”
The war has suddenly come knocking for enough Russians now to start causing disquiet among urban elites, argued Gustafson.
“Right now, I’m looking at pictures of Muscovites heading into underground shelters to escape drones.
“They will understand that what is happening in Ukraine is not making them safer.”
Most of Putin’s cannon-fodder soldiers haven’t been drawn from the big cities but retrieved from “far away provinces, including lots of ethnic minorities who live without running water,” the expert said.
So far, urban elites have been spared from feeling the effects of the war through a “social contract Putin has with them – ‘shut up and stay out of politics and you can live your lives’.
“Even dictators like Putin need consent to govern – these attacks are not likely to create an uprising, but it will challenge the narrative that Putin can protect his country.”
John Herbst, senior director of the Atlantic Council and former US ambassador to Ukraine explained that what we are seeing are cracks in Putin’s strongman image.
“There are fissures – not large, but noticeable,” he told The Sun Online.
“It’s chipping away at his legitimacy and standing…and they show he is not in control,” Herbst added.
“Drones flying over Moscow and small military units fighting in his territory are embarrassing for Putin, and a problem that will prove a distraction and contribute to uncertainty in the Kremlin.
“They could contribute to his downfall.”
However, the former ambassador stressed that what’s truly an issue for Putin is his results on the battlefield.
“Set objectives in Ukraine have not been met, draft-age men have fled the county and Russian casualties are extraordinary.”
Footage of a huge explosion at the Berdiansk port in Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia on June 2 after the latest Ukrainian strike against Putin[/caption]