Yuri Shvets: Ex-KGB Officer on Putin’s Weak Power Hold

This article is a summary of the YouTube video ‘Former KGB officer says Putin’s grip on power ‘almost nonexistent” by CNN

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Putin faces challenges due to recent events, potentially making him dangerous with the largest nuclear arsenal. Putin’s weakness emerged with Wagner troops near the Kremlin. The US monitors without involvement, aware of conflict between Prigozhin and Putin. Putin’s image is tarnished, and his hold on power seems weak. Prigozhin’s actions betray Putin, possibly leading to retirement for military officials. Russia’s control and governance are nearly destroyed, leaving an uncertain future. Putin’s threats may be empty, and Ukraine seeks advantage.

Key Insights

  • Vladimir Putin is facing diplomatic and security challenges following recent events.
  • Putin being backed into a corner could make him dangerous due to his role as the leader of the world's largest nuclear arsenal.
  • The Wagner troops' proximity to the Kremlin exposed Putin's weakness.
  • The US is navigating the situation carefully, distancing themselves from any involvement but closely monitoring the events.
  • The US intelligence community was aware of the conflict between Prigozhin (Wagner's leader) and Putin, but they did not expect such little resistance from Putin.
  • Putin's image has been damaged, and his grip on power in Russia appears weak.
  • Prigozhin's actions are seen as a betrayal by Putin, as he was once Putin's protege.
  • The deal between Prigozhin and Putin showcases a clear humiliation for Putin, with possible retirement plans for top military officials.
  • The country's control and governance system in Russia is almost destroyed, leaving the future uncertain.
  • Putin's typical tactic is to fight back with threats and bluff, but often these threats are mere bluffs.
  • Ukraine seeks to capitalize on the power struggle in Russia and gain ground around the city of Bakhmut.

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CNN Senior National Security Correspondent Alex Marquardt is back with us. Alex, we’re hearing words like nullified, humiliated. These are words that Vladimir Putin does not like. What are some of the diplomatic challenges of dealing with politically wounded Vladimir Putin?

Huge diplomatic challenges, Jim. Huge security challenges. Remember, this is a man who’s in charge of the world’s biggest nuclear arsenal. Any Putin watcher will tell you that if Putin is backed into a corner, that makes for a very dangerous Putin. We have never seen a challenge to his authority like this. As you mentioned, these Wagner troops getting within 125 miles, 200 kilometers of the Kremlin, his weakness has been exposed. And so he is going to have to reassert himself in a way that demonstrates to the world and demonstrates to his country that he is fully in power.

The U.S. is going to have to navigate this carefully, and we’re already starting to see that. Arlette touched on the fact that the U.S. has had a very hands off approach, making clear, trying to make clear to the world that they really didn’t have any role in this, that they certainly are not supporting Prigozhin on his march to Moscow. But Jim, at the same time, obviously watching this very carefully.

And we are told that the intelligence community did see this coming, that in the past few days and weeks, they have really seen planning for this. They’ve seen Wagner troops getting into position, equipment and weaponry on the move. There was a briefing, we’re told, midweek by intelligence officials to the Gang of Eight in Congress, which includes the heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, essentially telling them that this was imminent.

Let’s take a listen to Mike Rogers, the head of the House Intelligence Committee. The Intelligence Committee was very much aware that the conflict between Prigozhin and Putin was inevitable. This is not a weekend trip he’s taking, taking his convoy and his military convoy up to Moscow. There’s a number of accomplices, including, as we saw, some of the Russian people on the border with Ukraine who clearly support the Wagner group in contrast to their support for the Russian government. This is something that would have had to have been planned for a significant amount of time to be executed in the manner which it was.

So that was Mike Turner, the Republican head of the House Intelligence Committee, indicating that this was very much known by the intelligence community. Jim, what was not expected was the lack of resistance to these Wagner forces. I’m told the U.S. assessment thought that there would be a lot more violence, a lot more bloodshed as Wagner tried to get head north and get to the Russian capital.

All right, Alex Marquardt, thank you very much for that. At this hour, we still do not know where Vladimir Putin is. Ukrainian President Zelensky said yesterday the Russian leader is, quote, very afraid and was no longer in Moscow.

With me now is Yuri Shvets. He studied with Putin at the KGB Institute and worked as a Soviet spy in Washington. Yuri, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I can’t imagine there are a whole lot of folks out there who might have better insights into what has occurred this past weekend than you do. What do you think? How do you think Putin is reacting to this near insurrection? And at the same time, why isn’t it that we have not seen Putin since that angry statement that he put out just about 24 hours ago?

Thank you for having me, Gene. First, I believe this is a disaster for Putin, and he understands he realizes this is a disaster. And according to his practices in similar situation, he digs into a hole and stays there as long as possible. This is what he is doing right now. And the last two days, it was the final act of defeat of Putin. Putin’s image, which he has been building since the year 2000. Since the beginning of the aggression into Ukraine, he destroyed reputation or a myth about the Russian army being the second-best army in the world. Now, this is the second army in Russia after Wagner, apparently. And over the last two years, two days, he showed that his grip on power in Russia is almost non-existent. He balances over the last 20 years. His act was to balance between different factions. He does not. He doesn’t do he. He is not in a position to do it anymore. He controls the country as a mafia-style organization. And he lost control. This question, how humiliating is it for Putin to be challenged by someone like Prigozhin to essentially have Prigozhin 125 miles or so from Moscow, somebody who was once his protege?

Exactly, exactly, because Prigozhin, especially, especially betraying of Prigozhin, because for Putin, it was a lap dog. Prigozhin as a personality was created by Putin. Essentially, before they met, Prigozhin was a two-time hardcore criminal, a hardcore criminal. And this is Putin who made him very rich, famous and powerful. So Putin can see this as a real betrayal. And as he used to say it in the past, there is one crime which he cannot pardon. And this is betrayal. But this is what he did yesterday. He not just pardoned, he disavowed.

Yeah, what do you make of this deal that they made? They made this deal where Prigozhin gets to leave for Belarus and his mercenaries and Wagner are folded into the Russian military. And that all is forgiven. Can you believe that?

Well, this is what not just I cannot believe. Well, I have difficulties to believe, but most Russians can hardly believe because it’s a clear humiliation. More than even more so because what we know so far, this is an official part of the arrangement. But sources close to the Kremlin, they say that there is one very important point of the real arrangement, which is not it has not been announced. And this is Shoigu, the defense minister, and Gerasimov, the chief of staff, will go into retirement. They will not be fired in disgrace as Prigozhin demanded, but they will be moving to retirement. And it was a single explicitly formulated demand of Prigozhin.

And let me ask you this. How is Putin going to survive this politically? We were talking about this with other guests during this program that I know from Russian history is the history of the Soviet Union. Generational change in Russia or the Soviet Union, for that matter, can happen very quickly, very suddenly and take the world by surprise. Do you think something like that could happen and bring about the end of Vladimir Putin?

It’s hard to say because Putin’s personnel policy over the 20 years in power was to nominate among his subordinates people who are not intelligent, not they have no guts, they most of them have no entities whatsoever. So they like, you know, like gray mice, as they used to say. So it’s hard to imagine that these people can commit a coup d’etat. Prigozhin, two times convicted criminal, Putin’s chef. He dared to do this by the high ranking military FSB. They did it there. So the country is right now is basically in a free fall. I mean, in terms that the system of control and governance is almost destroyed. I don’t know how they are going to repair this, but what is important to understand in similar circumstances, Putin’s tactic is to fight back with threats, with bluff. Most of them, all those threats are bluff, such as, you know, brandishing nuclear weapons, tactical use, the use of tactical use of nukes in Ukraine or elsewhere. I can tell you on the basis of our professional experiences, this is the bluff which goes back to the days of the KGB.

Very interesting. All right. Well, and you would know that subject. Well, Yuri Shvets, thank you very much for joining us. We’d love to have you back and continue having this conversation. It’s very important. Thanks very much for your time.

Thank you for having me. All right. We appreciate it. Amid the chaos in Russia, Ukraine’s military says it is gaining ground around the city of Bakhmut. CNN’s Nick Payton Walsh is in Kyiv for us. Nick, Ukraine clearly wants to capitalize on this power struggle in Russia. Can they do that?

Yeah, that is the ultimate question, certainly in Kyiv for the days ahead. You were hearing there about the acute level of chaos that may still yet be to come in Russian top brass ranks, whether or not the defense minister and the head of the Ukraine campaign end up leaving their jobs. Now, it is unclear at this stage what level of turbulence the move by Wagner towards Moscow was caused on the front lines. Many argue that Wagner were not necessarily involved in frontline fighting. Certainly, those units that made that move were adequately prepared and have been away from the front for some time. But what has this done to morale? Certainly, Ukraine is saying they’ve managed, and they’re relatively obtuse about what they say here, to move forward one or two kilometers on the outskirts of Bakhmut. And today they, without any real specifics

This article is a summary of the YouTube video ‘Former KGB officer says Putin’s grip on power ‘almost nonexistent” by CNN