Western officials skeptical of claim that there was recently an attempt to assassinate Putin
- Western officials refused to back up a claim that there had been an assassination attempt on Putin.
- Putin is "firmly in control of his inner circle," one official said anonymously.
Western officials cast doubt on a claim by Ukrainian officials that there was a recent attempt to assassinate
They cited the "controlled environment" around the Russian leader as a reason it would be difficult to harm him.
"Were anyone to attempt to do something like that, I imagine it would be a hugely complex operation," one official said at a Monday briefing.
The officials spoke anonymously at a Monday briefing in order to give a frank understanding of Western intelligence on the Russia-Ukraine war.
Earlier on Monday, Ukrainian newspaper Pravda previewed comments from an interview with Ukraine's chief of military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov.
Budanov said that "there was an attempt to assassinate Putin" that failed in March. He appeared to suggest the attempt was not instigated by Ukraine, but unnamed operators based in the Caucasus region.
At time of publication, Pravda had not released the fuller interview.
The Western officials said they couldn't confirm Budanov's claim, and that Putin now operates within a tight inner circle.
"Putin is operating, and has done through COVID, in an enduring basis in a smaller and smaller grouping," said one. "He has fewer contacts, fewer public engagements, it's a more controlled environment around him."
The officials were also skeptical of increasing rumors that Putin is losing his grip on power due to health issues.
"My observation is that at the moment President Putin is firmly in control of his inner circle, the country, and the decisions which are being made, irrespective of any speculation about his health," an official said. "President Putin is still the decision-maker."
There have been increasing reports — of varying reliability — about Putin's health in recent weeks.
Most recently, former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove predicted that Putin would be "gone by 2023" and would be taken to a sanatorium.
An in-depth investigation by independent Russian media outlet Proekt used an analysis of flight records to suggest that Putin has had a significant medical entourage since at least 2016.
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