Anti-Russia activists and former Russian politicians have reportedly been meeting in Poland to discuss options for removing President Vladimir Putin from power — including by “physically eliminating” him.
The group of Putin foes has mulled various regime change scenarios, among them unleashing a civil war in Russia, taking up arms and killing Putin, the European media network Euractiv reported.
“The main goal is to physically eliminate Putin,” opposition activist Viacheslav Maltsev said.
Maltsev, who fled Russia in 2017 after being labeled an extremist by the state, noted that a civil war in Russia would not be “as bloody as the war in Ukraine.”
Another former Russian politician who was not named was quoted as saying: “the fight against terrorists requires terrorist’ methods.”
The meeting in the city of Jablonna outside the Polish capital of Warsaw over the weekend was said to have been arranged by Ilya Ponomarev, a former member of Russia’s State Duma who claimed to have organized an underground resistance movement in recent months, Gazeta Wyborcza reported.
Some participants of the meeting spoke out against a bloody coup, instead proposing that Putin, 70, be seized alive and handed over to the international courts to face war crime charges for invading Ukraine.
The gathering in Poland comes as a chorus of discontent is growing louder within Russia, with Putin’s army conscripts, former allies and local politicians in Moscow and St. Petersburg publicly denouncing the war in Ukraine, despite facing the risk of hefty fines and jail time.
The conflict, now in its ninth month, has proven disastrous for the Russian forces, which have struggled to make significant territorial gains, despite formally annexing four Ukrainian regions and continuously attacking the country’s vital infrastructure, such as power stations, in the hopes of breaking the population’s resolve.
According to Ukrainian and Western accounts, which have not been confirmed by Russia, Moscow’s forces have been suffering massive losses on the battlefield.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense reported Tuesday that more than 77,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since Feb. 24.
In his nightly address Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russian troops die by the hundreds every day in the fiercely contested Donetsk region in the east.
“The ground in front of the Ukrainian positions is literally littered with the corpses of the occupiers,” he said.
Zelensky and other top Ukrainian officials have repeatedly ruled out the prospect of negotiating with Russia so long as it’s led by Putin and said that talks could only resume with his successor once the Kremlin relinquishes all Ukrainian territory.
“Negotiating with Putin would mean giving up, and we would never give him this gift,” Zelenskiy aide Mykhailo Podolyak said in an interview with Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper published Tuesday.
Dialogue would be possible only once Russian forces leave Ukrainian territory, Podolyak said.
“We have no choice. Russia has invaded us with mobile crematoria and half a million body bags. If we stop defending ourselves, we will cease to exist. Literally. Physically. We will continue to fight even if we are stabbed in the back,” he said.
The remarks come days after US media reports said that Washington had encouraged Kyiv to signal a willingness for talks.
A source confirmed that White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had held talks with Russian officials to avert escalation of the conflict, the Wall Street Journal first reported.
The White House did not deny the talks but says it will not make diplomatic moves about Ukraine without Kyiv’s involvement.
“We reserve the right to speak directly at senior levels about issues of concern to the United States. That has happened over the course of the past few months. Our conversations have focused only on … risk reduction and the U.S.-Russia relationship,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated Moscow’s position that it is open to talks but that Kyiv was refusing them. Moscow has repeatedly said it will not negotiate over territory it claims to have annexed from Ukraine.
Ukrainian forces have been on the offensive in recent months, while Russia is regrouping to defend areas of Ukraine it still occupies, having called up some 300,000 reservists over the past month.
Russia has been evacuating civilians from occupied areas, especially from southern Ukraine’s Kherson region, in an operation that Kyiv says includes forced deportations, a war crime. Moscow says it is taking people to safety.
The next big battle is expected to be over a Russian-controlled pocket of land on the west bank of the Dnipro River, which includes Kherson city, the only regional capital Russia has captured since its invasion in February.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday that Russia was preparing new fortified lines of defense inside territory it controls “to forestall any rapid Ukrainian advances in the event of breakthroughs.”
This includes installing concrete barriers known as “dragon’s teeth” to stop tanks.
With Post wires