Patrick Christys: Vladimir Putin must be worried that his days are numbered

'The mask has slipped for Putin. For many years he cultivated a strong-man image and created an aura of fear around Russia and its capabilities'

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Vladimir Putin must be worried that he’s going to be taken out. That his days are numbered. That he will go the same way as many of the people he’s bumped off over the decades.

The mask has slipped for Putin. For many years he cultivated a strong-man image and created an aura of fear around Russia and its capabilities.

But the much-feted cyber attackers and hackers have thus far failed to take Ukraine offline, his intelligence operatives have fed him duff information about Ukraine being weak, there being no will to fight and it being riddled with neo-Nazis. His military might has got stuck in the snow and mud, the ferocity of Russian fighters has been exposed as, in some cases, little more than scared conscripted children and, with all of that, the image of Putin as a master strategist always one step ahead of his enemies has been shattered.

Reports suggest Putin has sacked no less than eight generals; he is sending mobile crematoriums behind his troops to avoid them coming home in body bags. The Soviet Union lost around 15,000 troops in Afghanistan in a decade long conflict and already, supposedly, Putin has lost around 6,000 in Ukraine.

Last night on Russian state TV, a guest broke ranks from the Kremlin and compared this Ukraine war to the one in Afghanistan. The mask is slipping.

There have been anti-war protests in as many as 40 Russian cities, and as more mothers realise their sons are not coming home, the clamour will grow.

It will also grow from the Russian middle classes. For many years now those more well-off Russian parents were able to bribe their children’s way out of conscription. Well, some reports suggest Putin is about to change the conscription rules and make it more likely that more children of comfortable families are going to be sent off to a war zone.

If Putin loses the middle classes, the type of people who perhaps only tolerated him because of the “I’m alright Jack” attitude of seeing their personal circumstances steadily improve, then he’s in big trouble.

Not to mention that he’s just lost the oligarchs as well. Roman Abramovic has had his assets frozen, along with many other Kremlin cronies. It will be interesting to see how some of the world’s richest and shadowy men react when the man who lined their pockets is also the man whose actions took their wealth away. I wonder how long that loyalty will linger.

Many Russian diplomats are worried about the situation as well – their life's work establishing close international ties have been shattered. I wonder how many of them are actually in favour of this conflict.

There is also serious talk about Putin’s health. Both physically and mentally. The reality is that people like us will probably never know the truth but there are, of course, persistent rumours of Parkinsons, cancer... we will never know.

It is his mental state as well that may well be the final straw for many of those in the Kremlin. If they genuinely feel as though he’s lost the plot, then how long do they let that go on for? Perhaps they were more willing to tolerate the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the bombing of hospitals and civilians. Would they be as willing to tolerate that in Europe? I suspect not.

The fact is that Putin has ruled with fear. His power has stemmed from fear and corruption. He’s isolating himself and sending conscripted teenage boys to be used as cannon fodder with their own crematoriums in tow behind them, he is being confronted by something he would know little about – a military made up of dedicated and passionate fighters who have a genuine cause, flanked by patriotic civilians with a full-blown desire to fight, and a willingness to die for their country.

If Putin really has lost the support of elements of his military, elements of the working class, the middle class, the oligarchs, his diplomats, his intelligence forces, and the global community… then, yes, he must be worried about how long he has got left on this earth.