Vladimir Putin has been “weakened” by the invasion of Ukraine, but the world should not expect a leadership change in Moscow “anytime soon”, Western officials say.
The Russian military has suffered a series of humiliating blows on the battlefield in recent weeks as the momentum of Ukraine’s armed forces heads into winter.
But it comes as some Westerners fear Mr Putin may resort to nuclear weapons as hopes of an easy victory remain out of reach.
Western officials believe that even if Mr Putin has been weakened, with reports of growing dissatisfaction with the conflict, there is no doubt that the war will continue to drag on.
“This is going to continue to be a long and bloody difficult conflict,” a Western official said.
Western officials have yet to see signs that Mr Putin has a “plan B” as most of the world continues to side with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his government.
His “mistake” of invading Ukraine hurt the Russian leader internally, Western officials have suggested, with concerns reported among some elites about the impact of the war.
The Russian Defense Ministry recently announced that it had completed a partial troop mobilization, ostensibly fulfilling a promise to end the call for 300,000 troops.
A Western official said of the war: “He was weakened by this truly catastrophic mistake.”
Internally, people in Russia are “talking more about what’s next” and “imagining a life beyond.”
However, officials said that would not happen “anytime soon” with no “likely prospect of change in the near future”.
For now, Western officials believe Mr Putin is getting “better information” about the war than months ago, but he may still not be getting the “unvarnished truth”.
Separately, the British government has confirmed that Roman Abramovich’s former business associates will be among the last Russian oligarchs to face sanctions.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly confirmed on Wednesday that the government was sanctioning four new Russian oligarchs, accusing them of being involved in industries helping to support the Russian military amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Alexander Abramov and Alexander Frolov, believed to be associated with former Chelsea football club owner Mr Abramovich and former owners of large stakes in Russian steelmaker Evraz, are among those sanctioned.
The pair are believed to have an estimated global net worth of £4.1billion and £1.7billion respectively, with the government suggesting they have property investments in the UK worth £100million of pounds sterling.
Airat Shaimiev, who has an estimated global net worth of £902m, and Albert Shigabutdinov, who has an estimated global net worth of £977m, were also sanctioned.
Mr. Shaimiev is CEO of the Russian transport and construction company OAO Tatavtodor, while Mr. Shigabutdinov is the boss of the AO TAIF group, which owns about 96% of the chemical and petrochemical processing in the Tatarstan region of Russia.
All four will face a travel ban, an asset freeze and transportation sanctions.
Mr Cleverly said: “Putin continues to rely on his select elite cabal to maintain control of his industrial complex and fuel his illegal invasion of Ukraine.
“Today we sanction four more oligarchs who lean on Putin for their positions of authority and in turn fund his military machine.
“By targeting these individuals, we are increasing economic pressure on Putin and we will continue to do so until Ukraine prevails.”
In total, around 1,200 people and 120 entities have been sanctioned by the UK government.