Putin's Power Could Be Challenged Within Months, Christopher Steele Says

As the war in Ukraine enters its fourth month, Russian President Vladimir Putin's power could soon face a challenge from a number of senior officials, according to former U.K. intelligence official Christopher Steele.

"There is now a serious vacuum in the Kremlin in terms of command and control. I don't think it can last a lot longer. I think it is worse than anyone has dared to express, in terms of the collapse of governance in Russia," Steele told the New Statesman on Wednesday.

"There is a sense of who has got the potential power resources to do it and they are very few," he added. "The two mentioned are Alexander Bortnikov and Nikolai Patrushev."

Bortnikov is a Russian intelligence officer who has served as the head of the Russian Federal Security Service since 2008 and Patrushev is the secretary of the Security Council of Russia.

Putin Power Challenge Steele
Christopher Steele said a path could soon open for another Russian official to overthrow Putin. The Russian President holds a candle during an Orthodox Easter service, late on April 23, 2022 in Moscow. Alexander Nemenov/Getty

Steele explained that a challenge would be imminent should Russia's losses on the battlefield coincide with a deterioration in Putin's health, which Steele speculates to be "cancer and also Parkinson's disease." The Kremlin has disputed such claims and said Putin is in good health.

"One [way to oust Putin] is that they go to Putin and offer him the sort of deal that Putin offered Yeltsin and his family, and that Putin accepts that deal because he is too ill to do otherwise," he said.

The other way the situation would play out is that Putin "refuses and there is bloodshed, as there was when Stalin died and Beria tried to take over."

However, Steele added that he didn't think it would be likely Russia would see a "large-scale civil war," but noted he wouldn't rule anything out.

"Russia is like one of its famous silver birch trees – with a shiny strong bark, but as soon as you drill into it it's full of woodworm," the ex-spy said.

Steele said Putin is especially vulnerable to being overthrown due to the lack of transparency the Kremlin has with its troops.

Recent reports from Ukraine suggest that Russian soldiers are looking for ways to get out of fighting on behalf of Putin, with some even going so far as to sabotage their own tanks.

"Even Hitler's generals and field marshals would tell him the truth about what was happening on the battlefield. That has not happened in this war," Steele said.

"Russian soldiers in Ukraine don't know what they are up against. They don't know the weapons systems they are up against. They don't know the tactics that they are supposed to be using. They don't know what their objectives are. Half the time it changes from day to day," he added. "You cannot conduct an efficient military campaign on that basis."