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Ukraine’s top military spy has suggested the only way Russia will stop its brutal invasion is if Vladimir Putin dies.

Kyrylo Budanov said it is ‘unrealistic’ to expect the Kremlin to completely withdraw its forces from Ukraine.

When asked if Putin could end the war alive, he told The New Voice of Ukraine: ‘Leaving him a way to retreat is one of the strategies, but it is almost unrealistic. 

Kyrylo Budanov (pictured) has suggested the only way Russia will stop its brutal invasion is if Vladimir Putin dies

Kyrylo Budanov (pictured) has suggested the only way Russia will stop its brutal invasion is if Vladimir Putin dies

Kyrylo Budanov (pictured) has suggested the only way Russia will stop its brutal invasion is if Vladimir Putin dies

Budanov said it is 'unrealistic' to expect the Kremlin to completely withdraw its forces from Ukraine

Budanov said it is 'unrealistic' to expect the Kremlin to completely withdraw its forces from Ukraine

Budanov said it is ‘unrealistic’ to expect the Kremlin to completely withdraw its forces from Ukraine

‘He is a war criminal for the whole world. This is his end, he drove himself into a dead end.’

The spy chief did not propose any suggestions for how Putin might die.

But he said he believes it could spark a political crisis in Russia, which could see the country divided up.

Budanov said Putin’s death could also lead to the ‘relative preservation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation when changing the country’s leadership’.

Many Western analysts have claimed Putin wants to claim some sort of victory or major escalation by Russia’s Victory Day on May 9, which celebrates the Soviet Union’s defeat over Nazi Germany.

Budanov said he believes Putin is now scrambling to mobilise more forces ahead of the symbolic day.

Russia and Ukraine are fighting for control of the eastern Donbas region, with battles ongoing around Kharkiv, Izyum and Popansa. Russian troops have now been moved out of Mariupol to join the fight, despite some Ukrainians still holding out there

Russia and Ukraine are fighting for control of the eastern Donbas region, with battles ongoing around Kharkiv, Izyum and Popansa. Russian troops have now been moved out of Mariupol to join the fight, despite some Ukrainians still holding out there

Russia and Ukraine are fighting for control of the eastern Donbas region, with battles ongoing around Kharkiv, Izyum and Popansa. Russian troops have now been moved out of Mariupol to join the fight, despite some Ukrainians still holding out there

Sunlight shines through a building that has been partially destroyed by Russian shelling on areas close to the city of Kharkiv

Sunlight shines through a building that has been partially destroyed by Russian shelling on areas close to the city of Kharkiv

Sunlight shines through a building that has been partially destroyed by Russian shelling on areas close to the city of Kharkiv

He said: ‘They had the main deadline—to have time to finish by April 24… they completely failed him. The second date is to complete the operation at least in Donbas by May 9.

‘Putin cannot admit that he is losing to Ukraine.’

But an imminent victory still seems unlikely, as today Ukraine pushed back Russia from its second-largest city in a successful counter-attack.

Kyiv‘s men stormed east out of Kharkiv, in north-eastern Ukraine, on Monday and managed to recapture the town of Staryi Saltiv around 30 miles away, according to  a Pentagon intelligence briefing. 

The move relieves pressure on Kharkiv, which Putin’s men were intending to capture and which has been heavily shelled, while also threatening the main Russian supply route for forces currently fighting in nearby Donbas.

Journalists who ventured out of Kharkiv behind the advancing troops described the nearby countryside as an ‘open-air graveyard’, with the streets and fields littered with bodies lying unclaimed.

One of the most-gruesome sights was the discovery of what appeared to be Russian corpses arranged into a ‘Z’ pattern. The bodies of civilians were also found inside apartments and burned-out vehicles nearby. Both likely constitute war crimes.

Meanwhile footage showed Ukrainian artillery destroying a column of Russian armoured vehicles further south, to the west of Izyum, as heavy fighting continues for control over Donbas.

The Ukrainian advance came on a day when little else changed along a frontline stretching hundreds of miles from Kharkiv in the north, to Mariupol in the south and further west towards the city of Mykolaiv.

American intelligence says Russia launched 30 missiles against targets inside Ukraine yesterday, while artillery continued to pound defensive positions in an attempt to soften them up for troops to attack.

Despite the heavy shelling, Russian gains have been ‘tepid’, the Pentagon said.

Moscow’s forces made only minor advances around Popansa and further north in the town of Lyman, as they attempt to surround Ukrainian troops defending the cities of Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Slovyansk and Kramatorsk.

Both sides are said to be suffering heavy casualties in the region, though Russia’s losses are widely expected to be worse than Ukraine’s.

Russia’s slow advances are due to commanders trying to preserve troops after units were mauled in the failed effort to capture Kyiv, the US says. 

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