Vultures circling Putin as despot faces coup from once-loyal henchmen

Cronies of Vladimir Putin are reportedly plotting a coup against him, while another trusted aide is lying low and preparing to act as kingmaker, according to new reports.

In a further blow to Mad Vlad, there are claims his whisky-loving foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is “drinking because he is depressed” and is suffering “health problems".

On top of this, there are recurring rumours of the dictator's poor health, with some believing he may have cancer.

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According to insiders, there were two key meetings on Thursday (December 15) where he had to stay in the same position and sit on a special cushion.

One report even claims to Kremlin's top chef, Yevgeny Progozhin, would be the man to start a coup against Putin.

Prigozhin, 61, had a remit much wider than merely serving up grub to the Kremlin elite, and even has his own private army and is thought to have recruited tens of thousands of mercenaries to fight in Ukraine.

“This is uncharted territory for Putin,” said Christo Grozev, the chief Russia investigator for the Bellingcat investigative journalism organisation.

“Prigozhin has 20,000 bloodthirsty, armed and aggressive men…

“They’re telling me, ‘We’re wondering if we should just lay down our arms because we’ve been turned into cannon fodder and go to Moscow?’ That’s in their thought process already.”

Grozev thinks a Prigozhin-led coup is a realistic option in the new year, saying: “This pressure cooker has to explode in one direction or another. Either it will be a bloody revolution or something else.”

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A key rival to Prigozhin could be hardline security chief Nikolai Patrushev, 71, who is also thought to be keeping a low profile while another hardliner Sergei Kiryenko, an ex-prime minister, is also rumoured to be harboring leadership ambitions.

Meanwhile there are other claims that planning is underway to find a safe haven for Putin, should he have to escape the country.

Callled Operation Noah’s Ark, the plan would potentially see Putin exhiled to South America, according to Gallyamov.

Putin-watcher Valery Solovey, a former professor at Moscow’s Institute of International Relations [MGIMO], said the president had recently cancelled major appearances including his state of the union address as it is “very difficult for him physically to withstand a long and intensive public event”.

He warned that if Putin is indeed ill, this would be “a direct threat to the lives of millions of people”.

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