Leaked emails from a whistleblower at Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), shared with Newsweek, reveal a civil war among President Vladimir Putin‘s closest allies as his invasion of Ukraine continues to falter.
The agent, dubbed the Wind of Change, writes regular dispatches to Russian dissident exile Vladimir Osechkin, revealing the anger and discontent inside the FSB over the war that began when Putin invaded neighboring Ukraine on February 24.
Osechkin is a Russian human rights activist who runs the anti-corruption website Gulagu.net.
The emails were shared in full with Newsweek by Igor Sushko, the executive director of the Wind of Change Research Group, a Washington-based non-profit organization. Sushko has been translating the correspondence from Russian to English since they began on March 4.
Previous FSB letters authored by the whistleblower, and published by Osechkin, have been analyzed by Christo Grozev, an expert on the FSB. He said he had shown the emails to two FSB officers who had “no doubt it was written by a colleague.”
‘Abyss of Terror’
Dated November, the agent’s latest emails detail inner turmoil and conflict within the Kremlin, predicting an “inevitable” civil war, and that Russia will soon “descend into the abyss of terror” as people grow increasingly tired of the war.
Both Prigozhin and Kadyrov have continued to criticize how Putin’s war against Ukraine is being handled, appearing to be siding with each other in rare displays of dissent, suggesting that rifts may be emerging inside the Kremlin.
U.S. think tank the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) also assessed in late October that Prigozhin and his military group could “pose a threat to Putin’s rule.”
The FSB agent, however, said that “there is no model of ‘just changing power'” in Russia.
“There is no way to ‘change everything’ in Russia so that the country as a whole will function and does not descend into the abyss of terror,” the email said, laying out how a civil war would play out in the country.
“In the beginning we may get a haphazard riot, with only looting and chaotic skirmishes between everyone. Let me try to explain: the struggle of security agencies against Prigozhin’s structures, a real war against each other, is bad, but generally inevitable,” they wrote.
“Or there will be battles of the regions for the division of resources. Or a scramble of various forces for control over regions or chunks of the country (Russia).”
But the country could collapse into total chaos, the agent said.
Chaos, Civil War
“Believe me—that is far more terrifying. I assert, and this is by no means the solitary private opinion of one simple (FSB) employee: we have f***ed up the country. We (FSB) screwed up the country not on February 24, when this whole affair began, but much earlier, when February 24 became possible in principle.”
“Chaos, civil war, collapse—yes, it’s all ahead of us. It is inevitable,” the FSB agent said. “Too many in Russia have crossed the point of no return. They plan to be little czars in the areas they manage to capture. At least, that’s the way they are thinking.”
The whistleblower suggested that it won’t be easy for the Kremlin to suppress Prigozhin should he eventually pose a threat to Putin’s rule.
“And when the especially ‘smart’ leaders in the FSB engage in whitewashing Prigozhin as non-systemic, and say that we have a structure that can neutralize him if it became necessary – that’s nonsense.”
The ISW has said Prigozhin is effectively building a “constituency” of supporters and his own fighting force that aren’t under the direct control of the Russian military or the ministry of defense.
Prigozhin therefore holds a uniquely advantageous position within the Russian state structure and information space that allows him to expand his constituency in the country more readily than the higher military command, allowing him to freely promote himself and his forces while criticizing Kremlin officials or the Russian armed forces without fear of push back, according to the think tank.
In a more urgent email dated on November 8, the FSB whistleblower warned Osechkin that Prigozhin is preparing brigades for “domestic terror” in Russia, amid a surge of protests and riots in several regions of Russia over reports that more than 1,000 Russians were killed in the space of three days during intense fighting in Ukraine.
During a meeting Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenaries were delegated authority and guaranteed a regime of impunity and tacit approval for acts of aggression and intimidation against those who protest against the war and Putin’s policies, the agent said.
“Our analytics and reports go up the chain and they understand there that the level of popular discontent is growing exponentially and we will not be able to extinguish it using legal methods,” the whistleblower wrote.
“The Service (FSB) is not ready for internal terror, and Prigozhin and Kadyrov think that their time has come, and moment to shine has arrived. Both realize that if they stop fighting and start a dialogue, both will cease to be necessary to Putin.”
According to the agent, both Kadyrov and Prigozhin will then be “cut off in funding” and will “return to their places in the system.”
“But both characters are no longer willing to accept that, each of them imagines themselves indispensable.”
The whistleblower said the FSB expects the pair to carry out a series of provocations that will smear the service (FSB) and point to its “alleged inability to control the situation in the country.”
“If everything goes according to Prigozhin’s scenario, we will lose both control and the country,” they concluded.
Newsweek has contacted Russia’s foreign ministry for comment.