A former head of Britain's MI6 spy agency said that Vladimir Putin is losing his grip on power and will not stay on as Russia's president next year. The prediction comes as Russian forces launch an all-out assault to encircle Ukrainian troops in a battle that could determine the fate of Ukraine's east.
"I'm really going to stick my neck out. I think he'll be gone by 2023, but probably into the sanatorium, from which he will not emerge as the leader of Russia," Richard Dearlove, who headed the British intelligence agency between 1999 and 2004, said on the podcast he co-hosts, called "One Decision."
"I'm not saying he won't emerge from the sanatorium, but he won't emerge as the leader of Russia any longer," Dearlove added. "That's a way of sort of move things without a coup."
Dearlove's prediction comes exactly three months after Russia invaded Ukraine, as authorities in the second-largest city Kharkiv are expected to open the underground metro, where thousands of civilians had sought shelter for months under relentless bombardment.
The reopening is a symbol of Ukraine's biggest military success over the past few weeks: pushing Russian forces largely out of artillery range of Kharkiv, as they did from the capital Kyiv in March.
But the decisive battles of the war's latest phase are still raging further south, where Moscow is attempting to seize the Donbas region of two eastern provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front.
The easternmost part of the Ukrainian-held Donbas pocket, the city of Sievierodonetsk on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets river and its twin Lysychansk on the west bank have become the pivotal battlefield there, with Russian forces advancing from three directions to encircle them.
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“The enemy has focused its efforts on carrying out an offensive in order to encircle Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk,” said Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Luhansk, where the two cities are among the last territory still held by Ukraine.
"The intensity of fire on Sievierodonetsk has increased by multiple times, they are simply destroying the city," he said on TV, adding there were about 15,000 people in the city and the Ukrainian military remains in control of it.
Gaidai said Ukrainian forces had driven the Russians out of the village of Toshkivka just to the south of Sievierodonetsk. That could not be independently confirmed. Four people had been killed in the shelling of one home in Sievierodonetsk overnight.
The battle there follows the surrender last week of Ukraine's garrison in the port of Mariupol after nearly three months of siege in which Kyiv believes tens of thousands of civilians have died.
Russia is now in control of an unbroken swathe of eastern and southern Ukraine, but has yet to achieve its objective of seizing all of Luhansk and Donetsk.
U.S. President Joe Biden, meeting the leaders of Japan, India and Australia in Tokyo, said the war showed the importance of defending international law and human rights around the world. The previous day he broke with convention to say openly that the United States would use its military to protect Taiwan, the self-ruled island claimed by China.
Biden's remarks on Taiwan were seen as a sign of how three months of what Washington and its allies describe as an unprovoked Russian war of aggression in Ukraine have invigorated Western resolve on security issues.
Russia's three-month long invasion, the biggest attack on a European state since 1945, has seen more than 6.5 million people flee abroad, turned entire cities into rubble and brought down severe economic sanctions on Moscow.