'GAME CHANGER': Calls for Putin to resign as Russia retreats
Russian leader Vladimir Putin is facing growing backlash at home with municipal leaders in the country calling for him to resign, and dissent emerging among loyal TV propagandists.
Ukraine has beaten back Russian troops in the northeast of the country, reclaiming vast swathes of territory previously taken by invading forces in a humiliating blow to the Kremlin.
Now deputies from 18 municipal districts in Moscow and St Petersburgh have signed a petition calling on the Russian President to quit.
"We, the municipal deputies of Russia, believe that the actions of its president Vladimir Putin are detrimental to Russia’s and its citizens' future," the petition said, which was posted online by Ksenia Thorstrom, a local deputy of the Semenovsky District in Saint Petersburg.
Meanwhile in what The Telegraph newspaper in Britain described as "a rare example of sanctioned criticism", a commentator invited onto Russian state television uttered the "unspeakable", criticising the war and saying Ukraine could not be defeated.
He called for peace talks during his appearance over the weekend.
"The Russian operation in Ukraine right now is in crisis, there's a lot of problems," according to Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer.
There is "confusion in Moscow" over how to respond to the deterioration in the war effort.
"It's a bit of a problem for the spin doctors of the regime to explain that to the Russian people," he told ABC radio on Wednesday.
Since Russia abandoned its main bastion in northeastern Ukraine on Saturday (local time), marking its worst defeat since the early days of the war, Ukrainian troops have recaptured dozens of towns in a stunning shift in battleground momentum.
However while taking back territory has been a "morale booster" for Ukrainian forces, "their success is not decisive success," Mr Felgenhauer cautioned.
The coming change in weather – and the muddy conditions it will bring – will give the Russians time to regroup.
'The Russian public are beginning to ask questions'
According to the military analyst, the Russian public are more than willing to accept a high death toll from the ongoing "special military operation", but only provided they believe the country will ultimately win.
The notable shift in public rhetoric and sentiment bubbling up in Russia suggests that belief is waning – something which could be a "game changer," Mr Felgenhauer told the ABC.
"The Russian public are beginning to ask questions," he said.
"That could be a very serious internal problem for the regime."
Washington DC based historian Sergey Radchenko has been following the war closely, and doesn't believe the recent setbacks for Russia have loosened Putin's grip on power.
"I do not see this yet, none of the senior government officials have resigned since the war begun, we have not seen any defections from the regime," he also told ABC's RN Breakfast on Wednesday.
"There's a degree of consternation among the public, even confusion but it has not yet materialised in a way that would threaten Putin's hold on power."
He noted the 18 local politicians who called for Putin on to resign, but said it was "not particularly important".
"Yes they've signed a petition, but it's not going to result in anything in particular," he said.
Russia still controls about a fifth of Ukraine
Russian forces still control around a fifth of Ukraine in the south and east but Ukraine's military is now on the offensive in both areas.
Looking to capitalise on the recent success, in a video address Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said other countries must speed up deliveries of weapons, calling on Ukraine's allies to "strengthen co-operation to defeat Russian terror".
With the recapture of nearly all of Kharkiv province in the northeast, the Ukrainian advance could soon spread into neighbouring Luhansk and Donetsk, where Russia has concentrated its forces for months to expand territory held by separatists since 2014.
The Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Gaidai, said troops had already retaken the city of Lyman in northern Donetsk.
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