Putin ‘directly criticised’ by member of inner circle over Ukraine war

Russian leader Vladimir Putin has been directly criticised by a member of his inner circle over his botched war in Ukraine, according to US intelligence reportedly included in Joe Biden’s daily briefing.

In what could mark the first time one of the president’s closest aides and advisers have dared to challenge him directly over the invasion, the individual is claimed to have expressed discontent over the mismanagement and mistakes by those in charge of Russia’s war effort.

The individual’s name is believed to been included in the intelligence report handed to Mr Biden and other US officials, but their identity was not disclosed to the Washington Post, which was told of the development by multiple people familiar with the matter.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told the paper that there “is disagreement” over moments such as Mr Putin’s mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of Russian civilians and “some think we should act differently”.

But he insisted it was “absolutely not true” that a member of the president’s inner circle had challenged him .

However, asked about disagreements within Putin’s inner circle, Mr Peskov said: “There are working arguments: about the economy, about the conduct of the military operation. There are arguments about the education system. This is part of the normal working process, and it is not a sign of any split.”

There has been growing domestic criticism of the Russian war effort in recent weeks, since Mr Putin announced the partial mobilisation and annexation of the regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia – as the ascendant Ukrainian counteroffensive continues to eat away at gains in those areas.

On Thursday, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky claimed that Kyiv’s forces had recaptured more than 500 square kilometres and dozens of settlements in Kherson in the past week, having last month retaken thousands of square kilometres in the Kharkiv region.

The Russian retreat has been such that, on Friday, the UK’s Ministry of Defence suggested that the majority of tanks currently being used on the battlefield by Ukraine were those they had seized from Moscow’s forces – a total believed to be at least 440.

Meanwhile, Mr Putin’s attempt to hastily shore up his army with the drastic mobilisation order has sowed further discontent at home, with protests erupting across dozens of Russian cities and the Kremlin forced to deny claims that some 700,000 conscription-age men have fled the country to avoid being drafted.

As a result, establishment figures within Russia are breaking ranks to voice rare criticisms of the war effort.

In a remarkable public denunciation of Russia’s top brass, the deputy chief of the Russian-installed administration in Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, lambasted the “generals and ministers” in Moscow for their failure to understand the problems on the ground.

Taking direct aim at Sergei Shoigu, he continued: “Indeed, many say: if they were a defence minister who had allowed such a state of affairs, they could, as officers, have shot themselves.”

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, have also criticised Russia’s generals, calling for senior officers to be stripped of their ranks and sent barefoot to the warfront – drawing noises of approval from some hawkish members of Moscow’s elite.

Even loyalist state TV propagandists voiced their displeasure on Russia’s tightly-controlled airwaves, with prominent host Vladimir Solovyov demanding: “Please explain to me what the general staff’s genius idea is now?”

Within his immediate circle, comprised largely of colleagues from his time as a KGB officer and as deputy to the mayor of St Petersburg, officials surrounding Mr Putin have typically been reluctant to bring the president bad news – a situation credited by some analysts as playing a role in the disastrous invasion.

But one Western intelligence official told The Post that they had “witnessed growing alarm from a number of Putin’s inner circle” since the invasion in February, adding: “Our assessments suggest they are particularly exercised by recent Russian losses, misguided direction and extensive military shortcomings.”

While senior European security officials reportedly said they were not aware that anyone had dared to challenge Mr Putin directly, as per the US intelligence report, one described increasing “criticism of Putin — behind his back”.

“They think he’s stubborn and obsessed with Ukraine” — an “obsession they do not necessarily share”, the official said, with another telling the paper: “There is scapegoating. Finger-pointing. All of this is happening.”

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