Despite the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991 and the reemergence, absent its collection of enslaved East European buffer states, as “Russia,” something old has merged with something new under the tutelage of President/Dictator Vladimir Putin. Both under the USSR leadership of old and Putin’s leadership today, the art of skilfully assassinating opponents has always been in vogue.

In 1978, a Bulgarian activist and playwright who had defected to the West in 1969, Georgi Ivanov Markov, 49, took ill and quickly died in London. As a radio announcer broadcasting anti-communist stories to Bulgaria and elsewhere, Markov always feared assassination. Just before he died, he shared that a stranger had bumped into him the evening prior as he walked across a bridge, jabbing him in his leg with an umbrella. A post-mortem exam discovered a tiny puncture wound there.

The very small pellet recovered from Markov’s body – only 1.7 millimeters in diameter (smaller than a pinhead) – was revealing. It was so tiny, it ruled out a range of poisons that could have been used because they would require larger doses. The pellet was telling too in that it consisted of 90% platinum and 10% iridium – not common use materials and not the work product of a Third World nation. It was later determined the pellet contained ricin.

In 2020, despite briefly joining the community of democratic nations, Russia resorted back to its old Soviet ways of poisoning opponents. Putin’s nemesis was Alexi Navalny who is a Russian politician, lawyer and, perhaps most upsetting to Putin and his oligarch cabal, an anti-corruption activist. After meeting with two men and having a cocktail, Navalny caught a domestic flight and became deathly ill. He had to be rushed to Germany, where he spent months recovering. Since Putin failed to kill him, when Navalny returned to Russia, he was arrested, tried on trumped up charges and imprisoned. He was just recently sentenced to nine more years in prison on additional charges as Putin obviously fears his release now might become a rallying cry for the opposition.

It is clear, however, from these attacks as well as others that poison seems to be the weapon of choice for Russian government critics. It explains too why Putin has his own official food taster.

The term “pucker factor” is a scale by which one – experiencing a sense of fear in anticipation of some occurrence – assigns a numerical value of between 1 and 10, with 10 being the worst, to identify his present level of fright. As the war in Ukraine continues generating discontent in Russia among the civilian population and a realization by Putin’s military forces that what they were originally told would be a peacekeeping operation there is not, domestic opposition to their president’s war is increasing. One would think, therefore, Putin’s pucker factor is up around the 10 level.

In an effort to reverse an embarrassing performance by the Russian army due to stiff Ukrainian resistance, Putin is committing more and more military force to the invasion. The Russian people who were enjoying the good life and a healthy economy pre-invasion are experiencing the negative impact of the sanctions destroying their economy. The shocking impact was quick, as the day after the invasion they awoke to find the ruble severely devalued.

The benefit of cellphones has enabled young Russian soldiers to contact family members to share what is really going on in Ukraine. Of the calls of thousands of Russian mothers attempting to reach their sons, many will never be returned as casualties continue to mount. Casualties have been so high, trains are being used to return bodies to Russia.

Thousands of Russians have protested the war. A Russian television news editor criticized the war live as have Russian artists. Even an oligarch or two has expressed disdain over the invasion. It is safe to assume that right now Putin is not the most popular person in the country.

Against this backdrop, a statement was issued by a Ukrainian intelligence official that a group of Russian elites is planning to overthrow Putin. While the group remained unnamed, the Ukrainian official did name the person who was being considered to replace Putin – Russia’s director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and a member of his inner circle – Alexander Bortnikov. (FSB is a successor agency to the infamous Soviet KGB.) It was suggested the two men had had a falling out as Putin blamed Bortnikov for making “fatal miscalculations” in planning and executing the invasion. The Ukrainian statement indicated, “Poisoning, sudden illness, accident – Russia’s elite is considering removing Putin.”

While such a statement could be mere propaganda to impact Putin’s pucker factor, Ukraine intelligence reported in the past that their own president was able to escape three Russian assassination attempts due to FSB officers, who disagree with Putin’s invasion, providing advance warning about them. Whether this too was Ukrainian propaganda, soon afterward Putin arrested both the FSB head and his deputy. Undoubtedly, the battlefield stalemate in Ukraine coupled with such statements from Ukrainian intelligence must be contributing to the Putin pucker factor.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has been very vocal in his criticism of Putin, even encouraging the Russian people to assassinate their leader. As he explains, “If he continues to be their leader, then he’s going to make you complicit with war crimes, You’re a good people, you’ll never have a future, you’ll be isolated from the world, and you’ll live in abject poverty. So I’m hoping somebody in Russia will understand that he’s destroying Russia, and you need to take this guy out by any means possible.”

Another high-profile person to plead with the Russians to remove their leader is body-builder and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He sent them a video explaining that their president was the real aggressor in the Ukraine war – something the U.N. agrees with evidenced by its 141-4 vote. “It is a humanitarian crisis,” Schwarzenegger added. “Because of its brutality, Russia is now isolated from the society of nations.” He told them they are not being told the truth about the war and the impact on Russia itself or acknowledging that “thousands of Russian soldiers have been killed. They have been caught between Ukrainians fighting for their homeland and the Russian leadership fighting for conquest.”

Putin will try his best to prevent access to comments such as those of Graham and Schwarzenegger as he knows they hold the one weapon capable of maximizing his pucker factor as it turns his people against him – truth.

One thing we will not see in the days ahead is Putin visiting his front-line troops in Ukraine to bolster morale. Doing so would undoubtedly subject him to targeting by both sides.

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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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