Ukraine's intelligence chief: Putin survived an assassination attempt shortly after the war began

Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

I’m around 90/10 in believing that this is Ukrainian propaganda. If there really had been an attempt on Putin, U.S. intelligence would have heard of it, no? And if they did, it would have leaked. They have every reason to promote news about hostility towards Putin in Russia.


But 10 percent of me wonders if there’s a grain of truth to it. If Ukraine was going to make up a story about someone targeting Putin, why would they have set that story two months ago instead of last week or last month? And why would they claim the attempt was “completely unsuccessful” instead of Putin supposedly surviving by the skin of his teeth?

They could have even tied it to his strange health hiccups. “Remember when he was seen gripping the table in his meeting with Shoigu? It’s because he was wounded in his right arm during the assassination attempt!”

So, I don’t know. In any case, note that Ukrainian intel chief Kyrylo Budanov doesn’t say that the assassination attempt was connected to the war or, notably, that the Ukrainians were responsible for it. Wouldn’t he have said so if he was inventing this story whole cloth?

Speaking to the Ukrainian news outlet Pravda Ukraine, Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov said there was an “unsuccessful” attempt against the Kremlin leader’s life at the start of Russia’s brutal invasion of its neighbor.

“Putin was assassinated,” Budanov told the news outlet. “He was even attacked in the line of, as they say, representatives of the Caucasus not so long ago. This is nonpublic information. Absolutely unsuccessful attempt, but it really took place. … It was about two months ago.”…

“It will eventually lead to the change of leadership of the Russian Federation,” he said. “This process has already been launched.” When asked if a “coup” was underway, he told Sky News: “Yes. … They are moving in this way, and it is impossible to stop it.”


Putin has many enemies in the Caucasus, notes the Daily Mail — Georgians, Azerbaijanis, even Islamist outfits. And it’s worth remembering that he reportedly fired 150 FSB agents in mid-April not long after the alleged assassination attempt would have taken place. Everyone assumed that was due to Russia’s intelligence failures in Ukraine, but if you’re all-in on Budanov’s rumor you might speculate that it had something to do with a lapse in security that nearly got Putin killed instead.

Keep in mind, though, that Budanov has been talking an insane amount of trash lately. Early this month he predicted that the war would end with Putin’s death before assuring an interviewer, “Don’t worry, Ukraine will win.” More recently he claimed that Putin is in “very bad psychological and physical condition and he is very sick” and that Russian officials were moving towards a coup which would be “impossible” to stop. He’s gone as far as to predict the turning point of the war down to a matter of weeks — mid-August, he says, at which point Ukraine will go on offense and win by the end of the year.

I think he’s just playing mind games with the Russians. Toss out a health rumor here, an assassination rumor there, and hope that eventually the anxiety consuming the Russian government causes it to melt down.


There may be something to the coup rumors, though, said bellingcat’s Christo Grozev recently. The trigger would be Putin trying to plunge Russia into a nuclear confrontation. The Russian military may be willing to lose this war and to look bad doing it in its vain quest to fulfill Putin’s ambitions but they’re not going to let Russia get nuked in the process.

Vladimir Putin’s top security officials understand that the war in Ukraine is ‘lost’ and a coup is now a realistic possibility, a Russian analyst has predicted.

Christo Grozev, a Russia expert, believes GRU and FSB elites are the most likely to try and topple Putin, because they know the truth of what is happening on the ground…

‘If Putin decides to give an order to use nuclear weapons, he must be sure that everyone along the chain will carry out this order,’ he said.

‘If one does not comply, then this will be a signal of insubordination. And perhaps even the physical death of Putin.

‘Until he is sure that everyone will comply, he will not give this order.’

Hopefully the Russian military would refuse to carry out any orders to use *strategic* nuclear weapons against the west. It’s less certain whether they’d refuse to use *tactical* nuclear weapons against Ukraine. Mitt Romney is already thinking about it and urging the White House to avoid nuclear retaliation if it happens. We could respond conventionally, he argues, by decimating Russia’s forces in Ukraine from the air, or we could try to comprehensively isolate Russia economically from the west and demand that other nations like China join us or suffer the same fate. One thing we obviously can’t do is count on a timely coup to save us from the scenario — especially since the guy who’s cracked up to succeed Putin may be more ruthless than he is.


Anyway, Budanov’s claim isn’t even the wildest conspiracy theory pertaining to Russia that’s circulating today. Social media is deep into “deepfake” analysis of Putin’s most recent media appearances.

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