A Russian paramilitary group opposed to the nation’s leadership has called for the elimination of President Vladimir Putin, and suggested in a tweet that a target was now on the Russian president following the death of Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Legion Svoboda, or the Freedom of Russia Legion, a Ukrainian-based outfit of Russian dissidents formed shortly after Putin’s invasion last year, wrote that only the joint efforts of the “anti-Putin coalition”—itself included—could remove him from power.
Russia has been in a fragile internal state in recent months, with the Kremlin leadership facing an armed revolt, drone attacks and reported waning public morale as what was intended to be a short invasion has become a long, attritional war with more than an estimated 200,000 Russian casualties.
Fears that Putin was looking to reassert his authority were heightened this week after Prigozhin, whose private militia staged an aborted mutiny in June, was among those reported to have been killed in a plane crash.
The untimely presumed death of the mercenary oligarch—announced by the Russian government on Wednesday—prompted speculation that Prigozhin, who had originally been allowed to live in exile in Belarus by Putin after the uprising, had either faked his own death or been targeted for his disloyalty. The Kremlin has denied involvement.
Since then, many Russians who are in favor of the war in Ukraine have shown anger towards the Russian government over Prigozhin’s death, with proponents of the invasion becoming increasingly outspoken about the leadership’s handling of the war. The Wagner Group was credited with some of Russia’s few successful operations in the first 18 months of the war.
Russian military bloggers, who have acted as cheerleaders for Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, face the threat of retribution from the Russian government, with more than a dozen having been demoted, imprisoned or killed in the past year.
“As long as Putin is breathing, the world is in danger,” the Freedom of Russia Legion, tweeted on Friday, referencing Prigozhin’s crash. “Now everything depends exclusively on the anti-Putin coalition, of which the Legion and the Freedom of Russia Movement are a part.”
Above an image of Putin which had been edited to show a red target symbol trained on his head, the group added: “Only our joint efforts can eliminate Putin.”
The Freedom of Russia Legion overtly attributed the plane crash, which also reportedly killed nine others, to Putin’s regime. It claimed the jet had been “destroyed by an air-defense missile.” It went on to say that the incident provided one “simple conclusion,” that “no one can reach an agreement with Putin.” No evidence was provided to support the claim.
“It is high time for the West to give up this illusion,” the paramilitary group added. “Anyone [he] can reach is a resource in his maniacal game.”
Newsweek approached the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs via email for comment on Saturday.
It would not be the first time that the Russian leader has faced a threat to his life. Ukraine’s chief spy previously claimed that Putin survived an assassination attempt shortly after announcing the invasion of Ukraine.
Parts of Russia, including Moscow, have been bombarded with drone attacks in recent months, which have been viewed as an attempt by Ukraine to destabilize the nation and bring the reality of war to its neighbor as it steps up its summer counteroffensive.
A direct hit on the Kremlin in May, which Russia called an assassination attempt on Putin by Kyiv, raised eyebrows with experts suggesting it may have been a false flag attack. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denied the claim at a meeting over potential NATO membership.
Since Prigozhin’s death, the Russian Volunteer Corps—a group of Russians serving as part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces—has urged Wagner Group mercenaries, many of whom remain in Belarus, to join their side.