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Putin's position is weakening as war losses mount, Finland's former Moscow ambassador says

Any change of power in Russia would happen "quickly and unexpectedly", René Nyberg told Yle, and could be triggered by defeat in the war.

Finland's former ambassador to Moscow René Nyberg.
Yle News

The military defeats that Russia has recently suffered at the hands of Ukrainian forces has provoked criticism of the war among Russian citizens and even within the ruling administration.

Speaking to Yle TV1's breakfast show on Friday morning, Finland's former ambassador to Moscow René Nyberg noted, however, that the criticism has been mostly aimed at military leaders and the defence ministry, but not at the top echelons of the Russian leadership.

"The name of [Russian President] Vladimir Putin is not mentioned. There is no criticism of the top leader," Nyberg said.

Despite this, Nyberg said the fact that criticism is being voiced at all is an interesting development, which he said reflects the nervousness in Russia about the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Yle's former Russia correspondent Kerstin Kronvall also appeared on the programme, and noted that criticising the lower levels of government, but not mentioning the higher tiers, is typical of Russian society.

Anna-Lena Laurén, Russia correspondent for the Swedish language newspapers Hufvudstadsbladet and Dagens Nyheter, told Yle that the mood among citizens, at least in St Petersburg, has become more negative since last summer.

"There is depression in the air. People no longer believe that the war will end soon," Laurén said, adding that although most people in St Petersburg want the war to end, there is very little open discussion about the issue in the city because voicing such concerns can be dangerous.

Laurén further noted that she also believes people have lost confidence in Putin.

Power shift would be "quick and unexpected"

According to Nyberg, Putin's position in Russia is constantly weakening, because his position is tied to the outcome of the war in Ukraine.

"It is evident that a real tsar wins wars. A tsar who does not win wars is not a real tsar," Nyberg said.

Kronvall said she has also noticed that the Russian state media are in a "panic mode", adding that the Kremlin may already be planning a behind-the-scenes power shift.

Responding to this, Nyberg said that a change of power in Russia would happen quickly and unexpectedly, and would be triggered by a defeat in the war.

That defeat seems to be on the way, he said.

"The good news is that Ukraine will never surrender. The bad news is that Putin will not change his line. The result is that Russia will lose this war," Nyberg said.

As Ukraine continues to repel Russia's advances, there has been growing speculation within Western media about whether Putin would resort to using nuclear weapons.

Nyberg said he believes that the use of nuclear weapons is highly unlikely because Russia's "nuclear button is not on Putin's bedside table" and that Russia is using the threat to intimidate Western countries.

"It has prevented the United States and its allies from participating in the war, but has not stopped them from supporting Ukraine in other ways," Nyberg said.

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