The Kremlin’s illusion of an unwavering and iron-fisted leader has been shattered as Yevgeny Prigozhin, a loyal attack dog, has launched a fierce attack on his old master, Vladimir Putin.
The lightning-fast advance of the Wagner Group mercenaries has left Putin terrified for his life. After more than two decades in power, Putin’s authority has suffered a humiliating blow as he is forced to negotiate with rebels closing in on Moscow.
Putin has always known that he could face a coup d’état, with no clear succession plan in place. The grim reality is that his most likely exit from the Kremlin would be in a wooden box.
The coup was expected to originate from someone within or close to his inner circle, as they possess both the wealth and power to orchestrate such a move.
The pressing questions now are whether Wagner will attempt another assault or if someone else will seize the opportunity first. If the sharks sense weakness, they will not hesitate to strike.
Putin’s fear is evident as he compared the current uprising to the events of 1917. Back then, war-weary Russian troops fueled the Bolshevik revolution, resulting in the downfall and execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his family.
Putin acknowledged that military plots a century ago led to the destruction of the army, the collapse of the state, and the loss of vast territories, ultimately leading to the tragedy of the civil war.
Yesterday, it seemed as though history was about to repeat itself. The Wagner Group mercenaries came perilously close to storming Moscow before abruptly calling off the assault at the last minute.
Hours prior to this, Putin had accused his old ally, Prigozhin, of treason, treachery, and betrayal. In a stark admission of vulnerability, Putin acknowledged that the Wagner rebellion could fracture Russia and result in defeat in Ukraine, jeopardizing the legacy he craves.
During an emergency TV address, Putin declared, “This is a stab in the back of our country and our people. A blow like this was dealt to Russia in 1917, when the country was fighting in World War One. Victory was stolen from us.”
He glossed over Russia’s devastating defeats on the Eastern Front of World War One, which fueled widespread anger towards the Tsar.
Putin accused Wagner of pushing the country towards anarchy, fratricide, defeat, and surrender.
However, the situation quickly shifted, and Putin struck a deal with the traitor, Prigozhin. The Wagner troops made a sudden U-turn, leaving ordinary Russian soldiers bewildered about who was truly in charge.
This turn of events is advantageous for Ukraine, as Putin’s generals are now distracted, his soldiers confused, and the chaos is becoming visible to ordinary Russians. The cracks in the carefully crafted propaganda are widening.
It is crucial for the people to realize that the war in Ukraine is not proceeding as smoothly as Putin wants them to believe.
While Putin’s overthrow remains uncertain, and a peaceful transition of power seems unlikely, it is important to note that a more moderate leader is not guaranteed. Many of Putin’s staunchest critics advocate for an even harsher approach to the war in Ukraine.
Western officials indicate that there are no apparent successors who would distance themselves from the bloodshed. Most of Putin’s inner circle comprises the siloviki, individuals from the military and secret police known for their use of force.
These are the same individuals Prigozhin holds responsible for Russia’s defeats in Ukraine, including the humiliating retreats from Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Kherson last year.
Prigozhin likely still seeks their removal. Could this have been the concession he won?
Putin’s nemesis, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, has been taken into protective custody. It is challenging to envision how those remaining, such as Armed Forces Chief General Valery Gerasimov, can earn the respect of their soldiers after allowing a group of Wagner rebels to advance 400 miles into Russia without offering any resistance.
The dispute that sparked the Wagner uprising had been brewing for quite some time. Prigozhin had been criticizing the generals as incompetent and corrupt for months.
His main grievance was that they deprived him of ammunition during the grueling battles in Bakhmut, a town in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region that has been the epicenter of the war for the past nine months.
Last week, Prigozhin accused Russian generals of engaging in massive corruption and stealing soldiers’ salaries.
Then, last night, he claimed that they had targeted one of his bases, resulting in the deaths of numerous Wagner troops.
However, the speed and magnitude of his coup attempt suggest that it had been meticulously planned for months. Western officials sensed the Kremlin’s fear and apprehension last week, indicating that trouble was brewing.
Despite his outspoken and at times vulgar attacks, Prigozhin has managed to remain in power, puzzling many Kremlin observers. He even dared to directly criticize Putin on occasion.
Yet, Prigozhin, an ex-convict, maintained his position because Moscow believed he had Putin’s favour, and he proved to be useful. He commanded a vast private army largely composed of individuals with criminal backgrounds, and they had thrown themselves into the battle in Bakhmut.
This private army achieved what Putin’s regular forces had failed to accomplish. In May, Wagner finally captured Bakhmut and subsequently handed control over to the regular forces.
It appeared that Putin believed Prigozhin had served his purpose and was disposable, as he ordered the absorption of all mercenaries into the Russian army. However, Prigozhin refused, reiterating yesterday that they had attempted to disband the Wagner military company.
Putin may now be regretting the day he allowed an oligarch to construct an extensive private army comprising convicted rapists and murderers.
Unsurprisingly, Putin has turned to his most trusted intelligence service, the FSB, to secure Moscow and quell the insurrection. However, these are the same spies who assured him that the war in Ukraine would be a swift victory.
So far, Russia’s regular army has not put up much resistance. Prigozhin claimed that they captured military bases in Rostov-on-Don without encountering any resistance. Videos on social media showed civilians welcoming his troops and offering them water, causing panic in Moscow.
Soldiers in the area are now fortifying defenses, erecting barriers with dumped sand, and placing mines.
As the whirlwind engulfs the Kremlin, Ukraine sees an opportunity to make gains on the battlefield and in public opinion. This moment presents a rare chance to reach ordinary Russians who are witnessing the disastrous consequences of Putin’s invasion firsthand.
However, there is also a risk for Ukraine. Whether the coup succeeds or fails, it could provide a pretext for imposing martial law and total mobilization, flooding the army with troops to overwhelm Ukraine.
Putin has had to deny allegations that he has fled Moscow. His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, insists that he is diligently working in the Kremlin and that Putin spoke with neighboring leaders to update them on the chaos.
If Putin is toppled, all predictions become uncertain. It is possible that he could be replaced by someone even more uncompromising. If he clings to power and crushes the Wagner rebellion, he may use the attempted coup as an excuse to purge his commanders.
There is no reason to believe that these leaders will be any better at leading a fractured army, but they are unlikely to advocate for a retreat from Ukraine. In fact, they could exacerbate the situation. Ukraine’s chance lies in the midst of the chaos while Russia consumes itself.
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