First Politicians Call for Putin's Removal After Reverses in Ukraine

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First Politicians Call for Putin's Removal After Reverses in Ukraine

By Geoffrey Smith -- Russian President Vladimir Putin suffered a rare and pointed challenge to his authority on Monday after an embarrassing defeat for Russia's armed forces in Ukraine at the weekend.

Some 18 municipal lawmakers from the cities of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Kolpino signed a public declaration for Putin's removal from office, citing the harm that his policies are doing. While the deputies are not familiar to either the international or the national Russian audience, their action is a striking show of dissent, indicative of an opposition that has been effectively silenced for years by Putin's increasingly autocratic leadership.

“We, municipal deputies of Russia, believe that the actions of its President Vladimir Putin are harmful to the future of Russia and its citizens," the public statement said. "We demand Vladimir Putin's resignation from the post of the President of the Russian Federation!” 

The statement was published by Ksenia Thorstrom, a municipal deputy of the Semenovsky District in Saint Petersburg, Putin's hometown and originally the seat of his power base.

Putin has built his authority within Russia on perceptions that he has restored its military prowess and delivered higher living standards than Russians have ever enjoyed. However, real incomes have been in decline since his first invasion of Ukraine in 2014. That has forced him more and more to rely on successful projections of strength to offset any unhappiness across the country at the stifling of political freedom. Effective critics of the prevailing climate of corruption in officialdom, such as Alexei Navalny, have been routinely imprisoned on charges condemned by their critics as politically motivated.

The deputies posted no agenda of their own, other than for Putin's removal, in an apparent attempt to avoid falling foul of Russian legislation against "discrediting" the government or armed forces. Under the Russian Constitution, if Putin were to leave office for any reason, his duties would be assumed by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, pending new presidential elections.

There was little evident volatility in Russian markets on Monday despite the scale of the defeat suffered at the weekend. The ruble was stable at just over 60 to the dollar, where it has been for the last couple of months, while the benchmark MOEX Russia index rose 1.1%.

Elsewhere, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the campaign "will continue until the goals that were originally set are achieved."

Russia's original goals when it invaded in February were to overthrow the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and purge it of what it saw as Nazis. Having failed in its first attacks to take the capital Kyiv, it subsequently changed its focus to the 'liberation' of the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions not yet occupied by its proxies. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu then articulated still more goals, including the spread of Russian control across the whole of southern Ukraine.

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