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Putin’s inner circle distancing themselves from war as combat deaths rise

By Sarah May on
 March 29, 2023

With the war in Ukraine continuing on into its second year, reports are beginning to emerge that some members of Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle are starting to distance themselves from the Kremlin leader as the true scale of the death toll resulting from the conflict becomes clearer, according to the Daily Mail.

The staggering volume of dead fighters resulting from hostilities in Ukraine was put into stark relief recently in newly surfaced footage of a graveyard established for troops inside the private Wagner Group forces endeavoring on behalf of Putin.

Dire prospects

The Wagner Group, founded by Putin confidant Yevgeny Prigozhin, has long been notorious for recruiting mercenaries, volunteers, and even prisoners to join its ranks, recently sending fighters into harrowing battles in which there is little hope of success.

The aforementioned footage of a cemetery set aside for Wagner troops has underscored in vivid detail precisely how futile some of the missions on which the men – and increasingly, some women – are sent.

Video showing the startlingly large expanse of the graveyard, full of freshly dug final resting places, is accompanied by the emotional voice of a woman speaking in Russian, who observes, “There is no end in sight...There are young men, and men of all ages.”

Noting that it was “impossible to count the graves,” because there were simply too many, the woman further lamented, “[m]y soul is bleeding.”

Exponential expansion

A Reuters special report published earlier this year documented in vivid detail the rapid expansion of the Wagner graveyard and the resulting illustration of the profound death toll the Russian side was suffering due to the ongoing conflict.

Located near the Bakinskaya village in the Krasnodar region in southern Russia, the cemetery went from containing a few dozen Wagner-linked graves late last summer, to the entire group of plots being full by late January, and according to the Mail, Wagner is currently seeking permission for hundreds more to be buried in the area.

Reuters endeavored to match names on some of the graves to Russian court records, public databases, and social media footprints, ultimately determining that many of them were convicts who had been enticed to join Wagner by promises of pardons if they managed to survive involvement in the war for a period of six months.

Some of the troops identified by Reuters included murderers, a hit man, career criminals, and those with serious substance abuse problems, people whose desperate straits and lengthy prison sentences led them to accept the bargain with Wagner which, in many cases, sent them to almost-certain death.

Fleeing Putin's “bloody swamp”

As the Mail notes, with massive losses mounting, Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin believes that signals are emerging that some of Putin's closest advisers are attempting to put distance between themselves and what he referred to as the president's “bloody swamp.”

Suggesting that growing numbers within Putin's inner circle are eager to escape from what they increasingly view as a sinking ship of death and destruction, Oreshkin pointed to a few significant names he thinks could be making their feelings known.

Former government ministers Arkady Dvorkovich and Alexei Kudrin were among the former insiders cited by Oreshkin, alongside billionaire oligarchs Vladimir Lisin and Oleg Deripaska, as well as Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, all of whom have histories of strong ties to Putin.

In Oreshkin's estimation, “They understand that Putin is toxic,” but precisely how any putative mutiny might conclusively come to pass remains uncertain.

Dangerous “bottleneck”

The tension, according to Oreshkin, is reaching a tipping point. “Everyone is driven into one bottleneck, and Vladimir Putin is the cork in it. The question is whether this bottle will burst under pressure from the inside, as was the case in the Soviet Union.”

“The problem is simple – which is more likely to happen: the cork will rot under the pressure of its acid contents, or the bottle will explode?” Oreshkin asks rhetorically, according to the Mail.

Asserting that the tide may finally be turning, Oreshkin adds, “The most intelligent people understand that it is necessary to separate from it. They understand hat the boss is leading the country to a dead end.”

Whether Oreskin's assessment is accurate and, if so, precisely how long it may take for graveyards such as the one in Krasnodar to cease their tragic expansion, however, are things that still remain to be seen.