Putin Has 'No Need' for Exit Strategy Amid Failures, Former Adviser Says

Despite a string of recent defeats that have led Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to declare that Russia has "already lost" the war, Russian President Vladimir Putin does not seem to be in need of an exit strategy, according to one of his former advisers.

In recent weeks, Russia has reportedly lost most of the eastern Kharkiv region due to a Ukrainian counteroffensive, while Putin's forces have been forced to go on the retreat in the southern Kherson region. Meanwhile, Putin's loss of the city of Lyman in eastern Donetsk, one of four Ukrainian regions Russia recently declared as annexed, has been described as a "significant political setback" by the U.K.'s Ministry of Defense.

There have been some indications that Putin's war failures could challenge his hold on power in Russia. Russian military expert Oleg Zhdanov said in an interview with Ukraine's Radio NV published Wednesday that some of Putin's allies will soon turn on him. Zhdanov cited recent shifts in rhetoric on Russian state television to acknowledge Russia's war woes.

He also said he believes that two top Putin allies--Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Russian mercenary outfit the Wagner Group--have been acting in favor of part of the Russian elite. This could initiate a change in Russia's political system and "shake up the situation to overthrow Putin," Zhdanov said.

Putin Seen With Former Advisor
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) speaks as his former economic adviser, Andrei Illarionov, looks at him during the international conference in the presidential Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow on April 9, 2004. Despite a string of recent defeats that have led Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to declare that Russia has “already lost” the war, Putin does not seem to be in need of an exit strategy, according to Illarionov. Sergei Ilnitsky/AFP via Getty Images

Additionally, a group of Russian officials appealed the State Duma last month to remove Putin from power on a charge of high treason because of the Ukraine war.

Putin is also facing pushback from constituents over a decision to launch a partial mobilization. Following Putin's announcement of the draft last month, anti-mobilization protests broke out across Russia. Unconfirmed reports that some recently drafted soldiers are not being given food or money and being forced to live in low-quality conditions mighty further deteriorate morale among Putin's existing troops.

But Andrei Illarionov, a former Putin adviser who is also a Russian economist, told Newsweek that "Putin's positions are quite strong now" and "there is no threat to his power."

"So far he seems in no need for an exit strategy," Illarionov said.

A brief statement provided to Newsweek by the Kremlin and attributed to Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that any speculation that Putin's hold on power could be in danger because of the war setbacks and disloyalty among his allies was "not true."

Others believe that the best route Putin can take is to admit he no longer has the potential to come out of the war with a victory.

Retired U.S. Major General Paul Eaton told Newsweek this week that the best thing Putin can do in terms of strategy would be to understand that the war "is over," and frame his declared annexation of four Ukrainian regions as a "marvelous victory" and then move on.

"Because he has lost this," Eaton said about the war, which began when Russia launched an invasion on February 24. "He's lost it in the court of public opinion. He has lost it in the eyes of the Ukrainians at all levels, and he's lost it in the eyes of NATO, which is something that he really needs to fear."

British Defense Chief Sir Tony Radakin said in a June interview with PA Media that Putin had "strategically lost" the war and would never take control of Ukraine.

Update 10/10/22, 10:15 a.m. ET: This story was updated with a response from the Kremlin.