May 7, 2024

Institute for the Study of War: Ukraine accuses Russia of plot to assassinate President Zelenskyy

Institute for the Study of War

Russian President Vladimir Putin began his fifth term as Russian President on May 7 and stressed Russia’s need for unchallenged autocratic rule while indirectly calling for victory in Ukraine. Putin thanked Russian citizens, the residents of Russia’s “historical lands,” participants in the “special military operation,” and those who have “defended the right to be together with the motherland,” and called on Russia to unite for victory. Putin did not specify what this Russian victory entails and only vaguely referenced Russia’s “serious challenges.” Putin has long justified his effort to destroy Ukrainian statehood by claiming that Russia is fighting for “historic lands” in Ukraine and coming to the aid of “compatriots abroad” who desire to reunite with Russia. Putin likely intended to acknowledge the war without setting heightened expectations for Russian prospects in Ukraine with his vague call for victory. Putin more heavily suggested that Russia “needs” strong autocratic rule, claiming that the Russia state and socio-political system must be strong and must resist any challenges and threats in order to ensure the development, unity, and independence of Russia. Putin added that his ability to fulfill his duties as president depends on Russian unity and cohesion and warned Russians to remember historical lessons “about the tragic price of internal turmoil and upheaval.” Putin has routinely invoked historical parallels to justify his own increasingly autocratic rule by suggesting that autocracy is a Russian tradition and has regularly argued that without unchallenged autocracy Russia would lose its sovereignty. Putin notably alluded in October 2022 to the Pugachev Rebellion that challenged Catherine the Great’s authority in the mid-1770s to warn deceased Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin about challenging the Kremlin, a warning that did not prevent Prigozhin from launching his own failed rebellion in June 2023. Putin had observed in 2022 that the Pugachev Rebellion occurred because the “weakening of the central power” caused someone to claim that he was the tsar. Putin’s inauguration speech was otherwise filled with tired, boilerplate rhetoric and vague calls for national triumph, and his focus on internal stability indicates that Putin likely sought to emphasize to the Russian public that his fifth term as president will continue to be increasingly autocratic.

Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) reported on May 7 that it exposed a network of Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) operatives who were planning to assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other high-ranking Ukrainian intelligence and military officials. The SBU stated that the exposed agents included two colonels of Ukraine’s Office of State Security (State Guard) who were operating as part of the FSB’s Fifth Service. The FSB’s Fifth Service originates from the Soviet Committee for State Security (KGB)’s Fifth Service, which conducted counterintelligence and espionage operations in non-Russian Soviet states and now essentially functions as a foreign espionage branch of the FSB. The SBU noted that the FSB recruited the agents out of Ukraine’s State Guard before the 2022 full-scale invasion. Both agents are facing life imprisonment on charges of treason.

Key Takeaways

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin began his fifth term as Russian President on May 7 and stressed Russia’s need for unchallenged autocratic rule while indirectly calling for victory in Ukraine.
  • Russian ultranationalists lauded the start of Putin’s fifth term as a historic event and explicitly approved of the autocratic tradition in which Putin is casting himself, with one of them hailing him as “imperator,” the formal title of the Russian tsars since the time of Peter the Great. Russian ultranationalists also expressed hope that Putin will continue to deepen an anti-Western ideology that the Kremlin has been heavily developing since the start of the full-scale invasion.
  • The current Russian cabinet of ministers and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin formally resigned on May 7 as constitutionally mandated, and the ministers who return to service and the ones whom Putin replaces will indicate who has Putin’s favor and signal his political priorities for his fifth term.
  • Belarus has announced a surprise nuclear readiness inspection likely as part of the Kremlin’s re-intensified reflexive control campaign targeting Western decision-making.
  • Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) reported on May 7 that it exposed a network of Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) operatives who were planning to assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other high-ranking Ukrainian intelligence and military officials.
  • The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office declared US non-governmental organization (NGO) Freedom House an “undesirable organization” on May 7, likely as part of an ongoing effort to consolidate control over the domestic information space and further deprive Russians of access to civil society organizations and independent assessments of Russian civil and political rights.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Avdiivka, Donetsk City, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • Russian occupation officials continue efforts to forcibly recruit Ukrainian civilians into the Russian military in occupied Kherson Oblast.
  • The Kremlin is working with occupation administrators to strengthen Russia’s control over the child welfare system in occupied Ukraine.

For full report:  https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-may-7-2024 

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