MANY former close allies of Vladimir Putin have either died, been jailed, or disappeared from the public eye, as Russia's increasingly-paranoid president looks to fight off a potential coup.
It comes as Russia's chess legend Garry Kasparov has warned that Putin faces being overthrown over the disastrous invasion of Ukraine which has seen almost 21,000 Russian soldiers killed.
Earlier this month, Vlad removed at least 150 top commanders from the Russian spy agency the FSB, in a "Stalinist-style" purge in response to the bungled war.
Almost all of those ousted were part of the so-called Fifth Service, a division set up in 1998 when Putin was still FSB director, designed to carry out operations in the countries of the former Soviet Union such as Ukraine.
The war has been disastrous in terms of Russian troop losses – for comparison, the Soviet Union lost just under 14,500 troops during the 10-year war in Afghanistan.
However, even more damaging has been the loss of top brass, with a number of Russian commanders being killed since the war began just under two months ago.
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Reports say a furious Putin has blamed his high-level officials for failings in Ukraine.
"That only happened because he didn't want to hear the truth," Russian expert Robert English told Business Insider.
When his forces invaded on February 24, Putin expected a speedy victory in which his army would be greeted as liberators.
But instead, with the war looking set to drag out for another few months at least, Putin now seems to have turned on his former allies, seeing enemies everywhere he looks.
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Mystery surrounds Vladimir Putin's defence chief after he was struck down by a "massive" heart attack "not from natural causes".
Sergei Shoigu is alleged to have been "ruled out of the game" following the suspected health scare last month after a meeting with Vladimir Putin.
Leonid Nevzlin, 62, a leading Russian businessman and sworn enemy of Vladimir Putin made the claims in a shock Facebook post.
He claimed Russian defence minister Shoigu – who has been pivotal in Russia's invasion of Ukraine – is also "in intensive care".
"Shoigu is out of the game, he may become disabled if he survives," he wrote.
"He suddenly had a massive heart attack. He is in intensive care, connected to devices.
"Rumour has it that the heart attack could not have occurred from natural causes."
Shoigu was allegedly spotted walking slowly at the funeral of far-right ultranationalist Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky on April 8.
He was also seen on a video conference on April 13 with Putin and other ministers.
But there have been questions before about whether fake footage is used in these sessions when Putin is seen meeting remotely with ministers.
The bodies of the top Russian banker and his family were discovered at his luxury Moscow apartment, not long after the bank was slapped with Western sanctions.
Vladislav Avayev, 51, was found dead along with his wife Yelena, 47, and his 13-year-old daughter Maria at their home in the Russian capital.
Avayev was formerly the vice-president of Gazprombank, Russia's third-largest bank and one of the main channels for payments for Russian oil and gas.
It has been hit with sanctions by a number of western countries in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, including by the UK last month.
Russian state media agency TASS reported on Monday that the bodies of three people, including a girl, were discovered in a £2m apartment on Universitetsky Prospekt, a leafy street in southwest Moscow.
Police spokeswoman Yulia Ivanova told TASS that the bodies were discovered by Avayev's eldest daughter Anastasia, 26, after they heard that neither the family driver nor nanny could get through on the phone.
She claimed that the door had been locked from the inside.
The daughter discovered the bodies inside their luxury apartment, along with a total of 13 different weapons.
A law enforcement source said that a gun was found in Avayev's hand and that they believe it was a case of murder-suicide.
Avayev had reportedly worked for Gazprombank for many years before deciding to leave suddenly for unknown reasons recently.
Kremlin analyst Olga Lautman said that Avayev earlier worked in Putin's presidential administration, as well as in the parliament, or Duma.
Putin's top general Valery Gerasimov appears to have been sidelined as the war dragged on.
The chief of Russia's general staff and first deputy defence minister is credited with creating the Gerasimov Doctrine in 2013.
This set out the concept of "nonlinear warfare", using military and non-military means to establish Russian dominance over its neighbours, thanks to information warfare, economic pressure, and converting the local population.
These techniques would first be demonstrated in Ukraine in 2014, where Gerasimov organised and developed plans for the Russian invasion of Crimea and Donbas.
Gerasimov also organised Russia's military operation in Syria which began in September 2015.
However, his strategy appears to have failed this time around, and increasingly, Colonel-General Alexander Dvornikov has taken a leading role in the war.
Last month, Shoigu and Gerasimov both vanished from the public eye for two weeks, as reports swirled that Russian troops were frustrated that the pair had remained in Moscow, far from the front line.
In a dramatic fall from grace, top FSB general Sergei Beseda has been thrown in Moscow's notorious high-security Lefortovo Prison.
Beseda, 68, was previously under house arrest but was placed in pre-trial detention earlier this month ahead of major charges for intelligence failings.
The Moscow Times reported that Beseda had fallen out with Putin due to his failure to create and fund a pro-Kremlin opposition movement in Ukraine.
Beseda, who was in charge of FSB intelligence and political subversion in the former Soviet Union, had been on a trip to Ukraine shortly before his arrest.
Putin is said to be paranoid that his invasion plans have been leaked to the West, and detained Beseda along with his deputy Anatoly Bolyukh over suspicions he was a double agent.
Beseda's Fifth Service was still in charge of maintaining official contacts with the CIA.
Many in the Kremlin are enraged that US intelligence appears to have been so accurate ahead of the Russian invasion, and are looking for someone to blame.
Lefortovo was infamous for the detention of political prisoners in the USSR and is often used to hold suspected traitors.
The jail still has an underground shooting range marked with bullet holes from the days of mass executions during Stalin's purges of the 1930s and 40s.
General Roman Gavrilov was deputy chief of Russia's Rosgvardia unit, which led the first push into Ukrainian territory.
Last month, he was sacked and arrested in disgrace, over the rumoured "leaks of military information that led to loss of life" and "fuel waste", according to investigative website Bellingcat.
His arrest was reported by exiled Russian dissident Vladimir Osechkin, who said Gavrilov was being questioned in Moscow on spying charges related to the movement of Russian troops which led to more than 100 deaths.
"The configuration of the state security structure in Moscow is changing dramatically," Oeschkin wrote on social media.
Gavrilov, 46, was part of the personal guards of three Russian presidents: Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin, and Dmitry Medvedev.
RosMedia reported that he was allegedly released, but had been fired personally by the head of the Russian National Guard, Viktor Zolotov.
Earlier this month, Putin ordered the arrest of his close former aide and man dubbed the father of "Putinism", Vladislav Surkov.
A shadowy figure, Surkov, 57, who kept a picture of US rapper Tupac beside a photo of Putin on his desk, is being held under house arrest.
He was detained as part of a wide-ranging criminal probe involving the alleged embezzlement of almost £4 billion by security services to create an undercover intelligence network in Ukraine.
Surkov – the former deputy prime minister of Russia – is credited with helping to keep Putin in power by masterminding the country's entire political system.
He created "opposition" political parties that, in reality, were controlled by the Kremlin, while also founding Nashi, the Russian equivalent of the Hitler Youth, who would beat up supporters of those very same parties.
Surkov also encouraged Putin to believe that Ukraine is not a real country, and previously called for Russia to annex not only Ukraine, but Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as well.
He was fired in February 2020 over reported policy differences at the Kremlin, but his arrest appears to be a further sign that Putin is turning on his former allies.
Russian media outlet Buninskaya Alleya reported: "More and more sources report that Vladislav Surkov is under house arrest.
"Investigative measures have been carried out allegedly in the case of embezzlement in the Donbas since 2014.
"It was Surkov who was the representative of the Russian President in Ukraine."
Many of Putin’s inner circle will be looking for a scapegoat and it’s always a dictator who should be blamed for all the failures
The news comes as Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov set out on Monday the steps he believes may lead to Putin's overthrowal by his inner circle in a "palace coup".
Speaking to CNN's Paula Reid, the longtime Putin critic and political activist, 59, laid out the order of moves he sees that would push Putin from power.
"First, the Russian public and Russian elite, they have to recognize the war is lost," he said.
"The bad news coming from Ukraine will inspire more people to rise because economic hardship will increase."
He went on: "So, military defeat in Ukraine, social-economic revolt and then you will have conditions, the right conditions, for a palace coup. Because many of Putin’s inner circle will be looking for a scapegoat and it’s always a dictator who should be blamed for all the failures."
However, he warned that ousting Putin would not be simple, as he knows that losing in Ukraine "is not an option for him".
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He described it as "a matter of political survival and in many cases of physical survival" for Putin.
"That's why he has to pretend he is winning the war," he added.
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