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A hard reign's gonna fall ...

Wishful thinking to imagine it’ll be anytime soon, but Moscow’s dictator is finding out the hard way his regime is in deep trouble. And, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, his blood-soaked tactics have come back to bite him. Hard.

‘The Russian people are able to distinguish true patriots from b*st*rds and traitors and we will spit them out.’

That is Putin’s retort to the manifest disquiet in the top ranks of his security and military apparatus, and the exodus of opponents to his savagery.

He’s a tightly controlled man, only resorting to coarse language when he’s flustered. But two can play at that game, some more effectively than others.

The Ukrainian soldier who told a Russian warship to ‘go f*ck yourself’ on day one of the conflict has been honoured with a bravery award.

Though he was first believed to have been killed, he’s now safely back home. And his response to the aggression is a metaphor for that of his nation.

Though far fewer in number than the invaders, the Ukrainian servicemen have hit back with at times almost suicidal ferocity.

Their attitude is reminiscent of that of Polish airmen who escaped to Britain when the Germans triggered World War Two by smashing into their country.

For them the fight was more than close up, it was personal.

And it’s claimed, but disputed, that Ukrainian airmen daringly ducked enemy radar and, for the first time, managed to bomb a fuel depot in Russia itself.

If true, it’s a huge V-sign to Moscow, and a major morale booster at home.

Likewise reports that Britain’s most advanced portable missile system has been used – another first – to cut a Russian helicopter in half.

Even if neither’s confirmed, it must now be sprayed across Putin’s eyeballs that his so-called ‘special military operation’ has failed to achieve its original objective.

Instead of swiftly taking the capital and installing his own stooges in place of the elected government, he’s been beaten back on many fronts and forced to regroup.

It’s obviously easy, when you’ve got enough weapons and men, to bombard cities to rubble. And kill, maim and abuse any number of women and children.

But it’s another matter altogether to annex an entire country and subjugate its people.

So how can he have got it so wrong?

Thus far, information gleaned by western intelligence agencies has turned out to be surprisingly accurate. And insights from Britain’s top spy explain a lot.

According to Sir Jeremy Fleming, boss of GCHQ, Putin’s problem is his advisers are ‘afraid to tell him the truth’ about how the campaign’s going.

As a result, even five weeks down the line, he still: ‘Overestimated the abilities of his military to secure a rapid victory.’

In a speech in Australia last week, Sir Jeremy also revealed demoralised and undisciplined Russian soldiers have been refusing to carry out orders.

Plus they’ve been sabotaging their own equipment, ‘and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft’.

At the same time, Sir Jeremy believes, Putin has not been told just how badly the Russian economy is being damaged by sanctions. So, he concluded:

‘Putin's campaign is beset by problems – low morale, logistical failures and high Russian casualty numbers. Their command and control is in chaos.’

Not only that, according to US intelligence sources, Putin simply wasn’t told at first quite how badly things were going. For example, they say:

‘He didn't even know his military was using and losing conscripts ... showing a clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information.’

The Russian squaddies too were kept out of the loop, according to one European diplomat, who said:

‘They were misled, badly trained and then arrived to find old Ukrainian women who looked like their grandmothers yelling at them to go home.’

As a result, according to other western agencies, Russian military and spy chiefs have started to blame each other, while the boss is blaming the lot of them.

A sour echo there of the French politicians who, after the Germans stormed into Paris in 1940, started squabbling about whose idea the Maginot Line was anyway.

Putin’s response seems, however, more reminiscent of Stalin’s behaviour when he didn’t get his own way.

Clearly it won’t be on the same scale as the old brute’s efforts in the 1930’s, when the best part of a million people were executed or sent to the gulags.

But it is reliably reported no fewer than eight generals have been sacked, with many more to come. This in tandem with a purge of intelligence personnel.

It’s thought it was with his spies Putin planned the latest invasion, not the army top brass, hence the endless cockups in the field.

Hence also so many FSB agents now finding themselves under house arrest. And Operation Scapegoat is only just beginning.

Little wonder so many of Moscow’s smart set who don’t rate Putin’s personal war have already relocated to Istanbul, fearing they could be next.

Stalin’s critics did much the same, fleeing to Paris. The difference being, thanks to the internet, many of the new emigrants can continue to work.

So this new brain drain could actually bolster the western sanctions that have already done such crippling damage to the Russian economy.

Not that any of it will make Putin more enthusiastic about using the current peace negotiations as more than a ploy to allow his forces to regroup.

Then again, Japan’s emperor Hirohito wasn’t keen on throwing in the towel either, until American atomic bombs took out Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Hardly Joe Biden’s style, that, especially given that Russia has more nuclear warheads than anywhere else in the world.

But the longer the Ukrainian war drags on, and the more it costs him in manpower and money, the trickier it becomes for Putin to present it as a win.

However tightly he controls the domestic media, and however many of his dead soldiers are discreetly cremated, he can’t hide the truth for ever.

Anguished mothers will register and bewail their sons’ absence. And all echelons of Russian society can’t fail to spot how much poorer they’ve suddenly become.

Hopes have faded of late that a palace coup will see Putin ousted and handed over to an international tribune to face charges of war crimes.

But could fate yet fatally intervene? The investigative site Proekt, founded in Russia but now outlawed there, has been pondering that possibility.

Its lengthy report about Putin’s health cites visits by cancer specialists and teams of neurosurgeons, and his occasional strange disappearances from the public eye.

It calls Putin's health problems ‘the main secret of the Kremlin’, and claims an oncologist went to his residence thirty-five times.

And at one point, the report adds, he went there with no fewer than thirteen different doctors.

Little wonder Vlad the Invincible, so fond of his macho image, wherever possible photographed topless, isn’t keen on this bunch of nosey hacks.

Of course the big C is a vicious form of natural crucifixion one wouldn’t normally wish on anyone.

But, if there’s any truth in the site’s implication, a familiar German word could be on countless lips in Ukraine and across the western world.

The word being .. schadenfreude.

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him


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