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Is Putin preparing to stave off a coup ahead of May 9 Victory Day parade?

As May 9 fast approaches, the scrutiny increases on Putin and his relationship with those he empowers. 

As rehearsals for Russia's annual May 9 Victory Day parade fill the streets of Moscow, speculation from Kremlin-watchers increasingly centers on whether President Vladimir Putin is not only celebrating a World War II anniversary, but also steeling himself against the prospect of an attempted coup.

The speculation is fueled by reports that two powerful factions inside Russia — the Army and a group of security officers known as the "siloviki" — are angry over the military missteps in Ukraine, and want to oust Putin from power.

The mood is far different from that in 2014, when Russia easily seized power from Ukraine in Crimea. The security services agreed with Putin's actions there, and offered robust approval. 

"That emboldened Putin," one U.S. intelligence official said. "He saw that he could get away with it."

Now, though, Putin has cause to worry about his longevity at the Kremlin, according to Russian investigative watchdogs Irina Borogan and Andrei Soldatov. 

Russian citizens are growing more unhappy under the economic fallout from international sanctions, the pair observed. Putin is more directly threatened, though, by those closer to him.

"Privately, the army, and even the secret services, have been heard to blame not only the Fifth Service of the FSB for misinforming the president, but also the president himself for making a bad call," the watchdogs wrote in an essay for Center for European Policy Analysis.

Blame for poor military performance in Ukraine has not been imputed to the Russian armed forces or Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the U.S. intelligence official told Just the News. "It's all on Putin," said the official, who is not authorized to speak to the media and who spoke on background. "He has taken quite a nosedive."

Putin's trajectory should be viewed within a recent context, analysts say.

The key period began about four years ago, when Putin began "reshaping the system through which he exercises political power," according to political scientist Daniel Treisman.

"Gone is the soft authoritarian regime of his early years, administered in part by a team of liberal economists and technocrats who favored Russia's integration with the West and sought to attract investors with a show of commitment to the rule of law," Treisman wrote in an essay for Foreign Affairs. "Now, Russia is a brutally repressive police state run by a small group of hard-liners who have imposed ever-harsher policies both at home and abroad."

The more Putin represses his own people, the more enmeshed he will become with the siloviki, the intelligence official said, adding that this will create an even more complex dynamic inside the Kremlin.

Treisman agrees.

"To retain control over the various agencies and factions of the Russian security state, he will have to continue balancing and pitting them against one another," Tresiman wrote. "He will need to move powerful individuals around, skillfully identifying any hints of disloyalty. Purges of the elite, which had already been on the rise, will become even more pronounced."

As May 9 fast approaches, the scrutiny increases on Putin and his relationship with those he empowers. 

"Does it matter? It matters a lot," according to Borogan and Soldatov. "This is the very first time the siloviki are putting distance between themselves and the president. Which opens up all sorts of possibilities."

The victory parade this year is expected to feature 131 ground combat vehicles, a reduction from the 198 vehicles that participated in last year's commemoration.

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