VLADIMIR Putin is being circled by "hardmen" who want him ousted over his terrible handling of the war in Ukraine, a former Nato commander has said.
Sir James Everard, who served as Nato's Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, said Putin was "in trouble" and running out to time to stop a coup against him.
Speaking to The Sun Online, the Brit former squaddie, said: "Putin is in a terrible place. It was entirely of his own making.
"There are hardmen in Russia who would have removed him if they had lost Ukraine to Nato and the EU.
"He's acted and now the whole thing has gone badly wrong and he is vulnerable again and he is in trouble."
It comes as Russia failed to achieve its military objective to have full control of the Donbass region in Ukraine by May 9.
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It was expected that Putin would use this week's Victory Day parade commemorating the end of WWII in Russia to either declare victory over Kyiv or order full mobilisation of the Russian army against Ukraine – neither of which occurred.
Instead, the rambling despot give an 11-minute speech in which he claimed Russia was fighting Nazis in Ukraine, and accused the West of planning to invade Crimea.
Sir James said Putin could now be so desperate to save his own skin that he may even push the current conflict into bordering countries to distract his generals.
"If you lose in Ukraine – and Nato was worried Kyiv would fall in a matter of days – then Putin might feel emboldened and go for the Baltic states," he told The Sun Online.
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"That didn't happen, thank God. But had he won in Ukraine, would he have been tempted to re-girdle his loins and have a go somewhere else? I don't know.
"[But] If you ask people who know Russia about what's going to happen next, they effectively say it's in the mind of one person.
"So, Putin could escalate beyond his borders."
He said the ailing autocrat's generals still think he can win in the East and establish a new front line along the river Dnieper.
I think Putin is in trouble
But that wouldn't be achievable if Putin does not "escalate conventionally" and beef up his troop numbers to 600,000 in and around Ukraine.
"I think we're at the start of a long war for Ukraine and a new Cold War for Nato," the former allied commander warned.
"I think Putin is in trouble… [now] Finland and Sweden want to join Nato.
"Ultimately he was trying to stop Nato expansion and that has failed. His only way out in Ukraine is to escalate.
"Nato hasn't had to make a decision yet, it's not caught in that trap."
It comes after it was warned Putin could face a palace coup within two years as his most powerful allies lose patience with him.
Many of them were pictured joining Putin yesterday at the Victory Day celebrations in Moscow as the sharks swim around him.
And it comes amid ongoing rumours about Vlad's failing health, with reports he could be suffering from cancer and Parkinson's.
As the war in Ukraine drags and sanctions bite, even the Russian tyrant's cronies will see his “toxic” behaviour as a threat to their wealth and power so it's “highly likely” they will depose him, according to intelligence analysts Dragonfly.
Their assessment is that “it’s likely to highly likely that President Putin will not be in the position he is within the next two years” if the West ramps up sanctions.
But rather than the mass uprising like the one that deposed Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi – which he is said to fear – Putin’s end will come from within.
Instead Putin’s fate lies in the hands of his inner circle of six cronies, made up of military, security and business figures – “squat men in ill-fitting suits”.
They are the only people Putin trusts to and they have been unswervingly loyal to him – until now.
They are Sergei Naryshkin, head of the foreign intelligence service, defence minister Sergei Shoigu, Alexander Bortnikov, a former head of the FSB internal security service and Nikolai Patrushev the head of Russia’s Security Council.
Also in the group are Sergei Chemezov, the head of state-owned defence conglomerate Rostec, and oligarch Igor Sechin, the boss of the Rosneft energy giant.
Sechin’s £458 million yacht and a £140 million vessel belonging to Chemezov were seized in Spain after they were sanctioned by the EU for ties to Putin.
These men are known in Russia as the “siloviki” which translates as “men of force”.
All have experience working with Putin in the Soviet-era KGB security service or in the St Petersburg city administration.
They motivated by “cash and the ability to spend it and the buy into this theory that the Russian empire is returning and President Putin is driving that”, says Dranonfly.
“The challenge is what happens when Putin’s position no longer guarantees the safety and financial security of the individuals around him.
“Clearly some of that is underway – the sanctions are unprecedented.”
According to the intelligence analysts, there is a “contract” between this inner circle plus other oligarchs and Putin.
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