YOU can’t help getting the feeling that some kind of almighty political showdown is coming in Russia. It might not be soon and indeed is most likely some way off yet, but coming I believe it is.

Let me explain my reasons for thinking that the writing is on the wall for the Kremlin.

The first and most obvious of these is that for some time now there has been mounting evidence that rival factions among Russia’s elite power brokers have been jockeying for position.

Sure, there is still a great deal of quiescence towards the rule of President Vladimir Putin lurking in Moscow’s corridors of power, but there are also growing signs of unease within those same ranks.

The simple inescapable key contributing factor in this shift in Russian politics can be traced back to the invasion of Ukraine.

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If Putin had conquered Ukraine in the first months of the war, that unease would not have reared its head in quite the way it has. In effect, what Putin did was lead the country into a disastrous conflict to which there was no easy exit strategy other than the complete subjugation and assimilation of Ukraine.

We now know of course that this is never going to happen and so too do some of the lead players within Russia’s political and military elite. It is quite frankly staring them in the face.

Even the most optimistic must be acutely aware that the best outcome they can hope for now would be a “frozen” conflict, one that would continue to eat away and erode the Kremlin’s standing both home and away.

As the anxiety grows, so too do moves to shore up whatever power certain individuals and groups hold when faced with the uncertainty of the future.

Much of this political manoeuvring and how it all plays out will in great part be determined by the outcome of the ongoing Ukrainian military offensive which should it prove successful in retaking substantial swathes of territory from the Russian occupiers would only pile more pressure on Putin and any of his loyal henchmen.

To put this another way, if Putin’s army struggles on the battlefields of Ukraine’s eastern and southern front in the coming weeks, then another home front could well rapidly open up right on the Kremlin’s doorstep.

Let’s be clear here. When Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group of Russian mercenaries, starts firing accusations of state treason at defence chiefs in Moscow it’s obvious all is far from well.

Tired of Prigozhin’s constant harping and in some cases threats to withdraw his troops from the fighting, Putin this week backed a drive to bring Russia’s irregular forces fighting in Ukraine under the authority of the defence ministry. In other words, the Russian leader appears to have thrown his lot in with the army in its long-running dispute with the Wagner Group.

Speaking to a group of Russian pro-war bloggers on Tuesday, Putin said that he supported defence minister Sergei Shoigu’s initiative, unveiled last weekend, to bring the irregular groups under central control – an edict Prigozhin has pointedly refused to obey.

There is of course no love lost between Prigozhin and Shoigu with the Wagner leader earlier claiming that the defence minister was deliberately starving his mercenaries of ammunition. Such remarks only further exposed the deep rifts among Russia’s armed forces and fuelled speculation among the country’s elite that Putin is incapable of managing them.

None of this augurs well for Putin’s rule given that Prigozhin and his Wagner Group carry a lot of clout and have the political ears of many within Russia who feel the president has messed up. Such are the changed days from when Putin and Prigozhin seemed politically the best of pals.

Could it be that Putin’s backing of Shoigu’s initiative is a pre-emptive move to neuter the Wagner group before it becomes too big a threat?

It’s worth remember that earlier this month Prigozhin openly claimed that Kremlin factions were destroying the state by trying to sow discord between him and Chechen fighters who are also operational in Ukraine. He laid the blame for the discord on unidentified Kremlin factions – which he calls “Kremlin towers”.

The “Pandora’s Box is already open – we are not the ones who opened it,” Prigozhin said in a message posted by his press service. “Some Kremlin tower decided to play dangerous games.”

“Dangerous games have become commonplace in the Kremlin towers ... they are simply destroying the Russian state,” Priogozhin insisted.

And so the factional rumblings intensify leading some Russia specialists to conclude that Putin is far more vulnerable than most people think.

In an interview with The New Yorker magazine last month, Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, was blunt in her assessment of where Putin now stands in terms of Russia’s political landscape in the wake of the Ukraine invasion.

“Putin is becoming too ‘insane’ for the progressive-minded groups that understand the restrictions Russia will face, due to sanctions, on its technological and scientific development and too soft for those who believe that Russia must opt for total mobilisation (militarily and economically) and bring all its might down on Ukraine,” Stanovaya concluded.

In terms of divisions within Russia’s elite she identifies an emerging trend and struggle between two blocs she describes as “technocrats” and “patriots.”

The first are pretty much Putin’s yes men and women with no agenda or vision of their own. The second groups or “patriots” represents what Stanovaya calls “a visible and sometimes loud mainstream.”

These are people like the conservative United Russia Party, heads of the security services and the likes of Prighozin.

This second group have a myriad of strategies for dealing with the Ukraine war many of them even more uncompromising and harsh than that unleashed so far by Putin.

And so it is that as Ukraine’s military offensive moves into gear many will be watching not only developments on the battlefield but what their outcome will have on the internal politics of Russia.

Short of being able to claim some sort of Pyrrhic victory to Russians by hanging on to portions of seized Ukrainian territory the way ahead for Putin is tricky.

Patience is running out and cracks albeit small ones so far are showing in the Kremlin’s façade. But they may yet turn into major fissures in the future.