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The faction Putin should fear most

A pro-Russia rebel in Ukraine: not mad about Vlad. Pierre Crom/Getty

Vladimir Putin’s most dangerous domestic opponents aren’t the liberal intelligentsia, says Andrew Ryvkin in Air Mail. They’re “militant Russian ultra-nationalists” who support the Ukraine war but think it’s being fought atrociously. Aleksandr Sladkov, a military-linked Russian reporter in Ukraine’s breakaway Donbas region, has labelled the war effort “shamefully indecisive”. A social media channel linked to Russian mercenaries has declared: “Either there will be a mass mobilisation, or we lose the war.” Combine that with the Kremlin’s “silent acceptance” of Sweden and Finland joining Nato, and you have a regime that, to ultra-nationalists, “is unfit for its own vision of Russia”.

That’s bad news for Putin. These militants have long been the “ideological shock troops” of his expansive conception of the “Russian world” – they helped annex Crimea eight years ago and they’ve been fighting in Donbas ever since. Though Putin can easily lock up anti-corruption activists like Alexei Navalny, it’s far trickier to deal with hardliners in military fatigues asking him for better guns. And because many of them are on the frontline “being shelled as we speak”, they aren’t going to be swayed by official propaganda they know is bogus. They’re increasingly convinced that Putin is incompetent and needs to be replaced with a “firm, incorruptible iron fist”. Considering the amount of blood on their hands, “putting a bullet in a frail dictator’s head won’t be a problem for them”.