A former member of the military has given his thoughts on the viral photo of Russian president Vladimir Putin in a meeting with German and French leaders.
Putin has become the subject of multiple memes after footage revealed him sitting 20ft away from French president Emmanuel Macron and later, German chancellor Olaf Scholz.
However, while many thought it to be a reflection of the coronavirus pandemic, showing the Kremlin leader taking extra precaution over not catching the virus, an ex-soldier and Associate Fellow of The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) – the leading Western security and defence oriented thinktank – has given his own thoughts on the matter.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has already been said to have survived three assassination attempts in a matter of days, however the former soldier explained that he thinks an attack on Putin is unlikely.
"Well, fear, is the main one. In that sense Putin's no different to the leaders of the Soviet Union, or indeed of tsarist Russia frankly, it is a dictatorial one-man state. He will have surrounded himself, certainly in terms of his own personal protection, with disciples, his senior advisors. Anybody he lets close to him will be trusted and you can see him sitting at the end of his table," he said.
"Everybody's saying that's because of Covid and things, but I don't think so, I think it's because of something like Novichok or other forms of close quarter attack. All it would take is someone to take a vial of that stuff out. So he's keeping his distance, or at least that's just what I'm thinking, thinking 'hang on a minute this isn't Covid, this is 30 metres away, what are you doing?' So he's acutely aware of that I'm sure."
However, despite Putin's possible paranoia, the Associate Fellow explained that he doesn't think "one can underestimate how difficult it would be" to assassinate him.
"He doesn't go out of the Kremlin, he's in his own inner sanctum within the Kremlin I assume. And he's surrounded by bodyguards. They'll probably be from the FSB [...] because he is first and foremost a KGB (main security agency for the Soviet Union) officer. Everyone keeps saying, 'Won't the FSB get rid of him?' But I don't think they ever will because his senior partners in crime are all ex-KGB officers and the KBG (now FSB) think it's all dandy because they're back in the limelight," he explained.
While he weighed up how it could possibly be a different story for the GRU (military intelligence) or the army, the former soldier also warned that making Putin "more and more paranoid" could be extremely dangerous.
"One of the things you've got to really watch is that if he's cornered and boxed in, he's on record stating that if there's a world without Russia then the world is not worth existing. So you don't want to put him in a position where he sees the end of Russia as he perceives it."
"I think it's unlikely it would be thousands of people with flaming torches breaking into the Kremlin. I just think he's got too firm a grip," he noted.
However, the Associate explained rumours he has heard of Putin becoming "nervous" about having the same fate of Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi, a Libyan politician and political theorist who was captured and killed by rebel fighters in 2011 after the Battle of Sirte.
"One of the things quite interestingly about him, is apparently the thing he is fixated with is a video he has on his telephone of the end of Gaddafi – you know when Gaddafi was caught in that drain and on video was impaled by his own people. Apparently – I cant remember who told me this, but it's an interesting indicator – he obsesses about this video and watches it the whole time so he's clearly aware of it and nervous of it."
While US Republican senator Lindsey Graham has called on Russians to assassinate Putin, the former soldier concluded: "If it was his henchmen and immediate entourage then the likelihood is they'd be doing it because they see their own power base as being threatened by his continued existence. But it doesn't mean we'd be getting anyone better."
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