Russia is on the edge of civil war, Ukraine spy chief claims

'Russian society is torn into two pieces,' says Major-General Kyrylo Budanov

Ukraine's Military-Intelligence Chief Kyrylo Budanov looks on as he urges silence amid counteroffensive, in this screengrab taken from a handout video released on June 11, 2023. UKRAINIAN MINISTRY OF DEFENCE/Handout via REUTERS    THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS WAS NOT ABLE TO CONFIRM THE LOCATION OF THE VIDEO OR THE DATE IT WAS FILMED.
Ukraine's Military-Intelligence Chief Kyrylo Budanov said Russia is on the brink of civil war.(Reuters)

Russia is on the brink of civil war, according to Ukraine spy chief Major-General Kyrylo Budanov, who described Russian society as being "torn into two pieces".

In an interview with The Times, Budanov said the recent rebellion by Wagner mercenaries that saw Yevgeny Prigozhin and his followers launch an ultimately unsuccessful march on Moscow had left Russia's president Vladimir Putin weakened – and the country ripe for civil war.

“That’s what we see now: that Russian society is torn into two pieces,” the director of Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate explained in an interview with The Times. He said spyware technology used by Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) showed during the mutiny that support for Prigozhin was seen in 17 of Russia's 46 regions, compared with support for Putin in 21.

Read more: Wagner boss Prigozhin has returned to Russia, Lukashenko says (The Guardian, 3-min read)

“The situation is indicating exactly what our service has been talking about: that the Russian Federation is on the edge of the civil war. There needs to be a small internal ‘affair’, and the internal conflict will be intensified.”

His comments came as both Russia and Ukraine warned of a potential attack by opposition forces on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant near the Russian-occupied city of Enerhodar.

Cooling towers of Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Station in Enerhodar, Ukraine
Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Enerhodar, Ukraine came under threat this week. (Getty)

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he had told French president Emmanuel Macron that "the occupation troops are preparing dangerous provocations at the Zaporizhzhia", while Russia claimed Ukraine was planning to shell the plant.

"Under cover of darkness overnight on 5th July, the Ukrainian military will try to attack the Zaporizhzhia station using long-range precision equipment and kamikaze attack drones," said Renat Karchaa, an adviser to the head of Russian nuclear network Rosenergoatom.

However, an inspection by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts found no signs of explosives at the plant, and there has been no shelling on the building. Indeed, Budanov appeared to concur that the threat to the plant was passing.

“We are doing certain actions in this area, both public and not public,” he told The Times, “and I think now that the danger of an artificial technogenic catastrophe is quietly going down.”

People stand outside a damaged building after a Russian missile attack in Lviv, Ukraine, Thursday, July 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)
A damaged building after a Russian missile attack in Lviv, Ukraine. (AP)

Budanov is not the first person to predict the collapse of Russia's regime, with Ben Hodges, a former general of the US Army in Europe, suggesting in September 2022 that Russia could fall in the next five years.

"We may be looking at the collapse of the Russian Federation as it is over the next four or five years," he said.

"We were not prepared for the collapse of the Soviet Union [in 1991]. We need to be prepared for this possibility.

"The military has been exposed, the massive amounts of corruption I think are going to become increasingly intolerable for Russian citizens," he said.

Budanov concluded that should Putin's star fall, the war in Ukraine would be unlikely to be continued by another leader.

“Why would Russia do it again? Nobody there, nobody in the main cities of Russia, would like to continue a war with Ukraine,” he said.