‘Death sentence’: Putin will die this year, says former Russian politician

Russian president Vladimir Putin is the unassailable global villain in the eyes of the West – but are his days numbered?

One dissenting Russian politician believes Putin could be a dead man walking.

Ilya Ponomarev, a Russian politician with the Green Alliance up until 2016 who is now living in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, made the extraordinary prediction during an interview with ABC radio on Wednesday morning.

"I think Putin will die this year," he said.

"He started this war with Ukraine that he cannot win, and losing the war means a death sentence for him personally."

Vladimir Putin attends a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Russian president Vladimir Putin is seen as a global villan by the West but could he be toppled by his own countrymen? Source: Getty

Without going into too much detail, Mr Ponomarev posited that "somebody from the inner circle may pull the trigger" because they are "tired of all the sanctions, the humiliations and the threats" from the Western community.

"The second option would be a revolution, started by the people because the life conditions in Russia are deteriorating quite rapidly."

A worst case scenario for the Russian leader, Mr Ponomarev argued, (although one which most experts say is exceedingly unlikely) is that Russia loses the military battle on the ground. In that case, Putin might choose the nuclear option.

"Putin would most likely start to threaten everyone with nuclear weapons, and then somebody would just take care of this," he said, suggesting an assassination could take place.

But if Putin did lose his life, or at least his ironclad grip on power, who would take over?

Could Vladimir Putin really be killed?

The chances of Putin being toppled by someone within the Russian political class is very remote, says Associate Professor Matthew Sussex, a Russian political expert from the Australian National University.

"They're all terrified of him," he told Yahoo News Australia. "[And] he plays them off against one another."

Putin has done a masterful job of consolidating power while denuding any potential rivals, including through systematic purges of politicians in senior intelligence roles.

"At times he's transferred his affections to the army and back again," Prof Sussex explained.

Putin has enriched those around him, ensuring their support. The many oligarchs of Russia owe their wealth to him, and in exchange stay far away from politics. Those inside the Kremlin owe a similar debt to Putin.

"There are a variety of different, competing Kremlin clans," Prof Sussex said. "And he plays divide and rule with them and they're under no illusions that they owe their positions to him.

"And not just their positions, but let's face it, their wealth."

Vladimir Putin and defence minister Sergei Shoigu pictured admiring some guns.
Vladimir Putin and defence minister Sergei Shoigu admire some guns. Source: Getty

For this reason, in the event of a social uprising Russia's elite would rally behind Putin because if he goes down, they too would likely lose their proximity to Russian power and wealth.

As for the likelihood of an internal knifing, "I'd be very sceptical about this happening," Prof Sussex said.

"I wouldn't rule it out, but I would be very sceptical."

Who could take over from Putin?

The notion that Putin will be assassinated is "fan fiction" Prof Sussex said, but there are a couple of figures who could come to the fore if Putin "clumsily fell out of the window or something like that".

However in some cases they could be even worse than Putin, from a Western perspective.

One of these is the Secretary of the Security Council in Russia, Nikolai Patrushev, who previously spent a decade as the director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor organisation to the Soviet KGB.

"The thing about Patrushev is he is strongly nationalistic – as bad or worse than Putin," Prof Sussex told Yahoo.

"One of the things you have to worry about is ... are the alternatives worse? And in many cases the answer is yes."

Nikolai Patrushev (left) and the defence minister Sergei Shoigu (right) pictured.
Nikolai Patrushev (left) and the defence minister Sergei Shoigu (right) are two players who could come to the fore if Putin was killed. Source: Getty

While Prof Sussex cast doubt over his ability to handle the top job, he said Patrushev remains useful to Putin.

Another power broker who could be looked to in the event of Putin's demise is the country's defence minister Sergei Shoigu.

He has overseen the military during a time of transformation and is one of the few people in the government who has held a senior position since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

That would likely transpire as an army-backed coup, however the army "has a tendency not to back coups" because they don't want to be a part of politics, Prof Sussex said.

"It's only if his neck was personally on the block."

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