Vladimir Putin‘s hold on power has “never been weaker” and is likely to become even more tenuous as Russians wake up to the military disaster unfolding in Ukraine, according to a politician from Saint Petersburg. The Russian president and his generals have been rocked by Kyiv’s lightning counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region, which has seen Ukrainian forces reclaim over 2,300 square miles of territory in just over a week. Ukraine’s army is consolidating its gains and looking to make further advances into Luhansk province – one of the two regions that constitute the Donbas.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has questioned whether Putin’s army has sufficient troops or morale to withstand further Ukrainian attacks in the east.
Dmitry Palyuga, a Yabloko Party councillor from the Smolninskoye municipality, said Putin was living on borrowed time and that the country was “very tired of his games of conquest”.
He told Express.co.uk: “I don’t think Putin can be President for much longer. He doesn’t have any comprehensible goals and cannot offer anyone a model for the future – neither ordinary Russians nor the elites.
“In fact, his support in the last years has been built on fear and on the premise that he was defending Russia from conquest by NATO countries.
“But now everyone sees that the Russian army is weak and that actually Putin is unable to defend people even from this virtual threat.
“I think that today he has never been weaker and will become even more so.”
An opinion poll carried out by the Levada Centre in August found that more than three-quarters of Russians continued to support Putin’s war in Ukraine to some degree or other.
However, Mr Palyuga argues the picture is vastly different and more uncertain for Putin.
He described around 20 percent as being active supporters of military action in Ukraine, another 20 as being firmly opposed, while 60 percent were non-committal.
The latter, though, were more likely to join the anti-Putin camp if Russia continued to suffer significant battlefield defeats.
The councillor explained: “The sixty percent simply want to get on with their lives. They don’t believe anyone and consider doing something as senseless.
“But as the counteroffensive develops it is going to be harder and harder for them to pretend that nothing is happening.
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“I think the majority of them will be ready to join those opposed to military action rather than those who support it.”
Mr Palyuga shot to prominence earlier this month when he and a group of fellow councillors urged Russia’s parliament to charge the Russian President with treason in an unprecedented and courageous act of political protest.
The Kremlin has in recent times brutally clamped down on anti-Putin activists and has threatened anyone spreading “fake news” about the military with up to 15 years of imprisonment.
The councillors were subsequently arrested by police and fined £673 by the courts as a first step by the authorities.
Despite the very real threat to his liberty and life, Mr Palyuga said he did not regret his decision to speak out against the regime.
He explained: “There is quite a big risk (of repression). But we were ready to face it.
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“We are very tired of Vladimir Putin and his games of conquest. Someone had to say aloud that what he is doing is harming and not helping Russia.
“We understood that Russian citizens have suffered a serious blow to their future. The combat ability of the army is being destroyed, and the economy and prosperity of Russian citizens is suffering.”
The councillor said he had been taken aback by the strong public support for their stance, with people thanking him in the streets and cafes. He said only two people had so far accused him of being a “traitor”.
He remained optimistic that Russia could become a democratic country but to reach that goal would entail “very hard times”.
Mr Palyuga said: “Russia has just one path – to stop the fighting and replace the President with someone able to admit our mistakes and to reach agreement on how to compensate Ukraine for the damage.
“One way or another, there will be democratisation but also very hard times as regards our economy and culture.”