What happened on Saturday when the owner of the Wagner Group rebelled against the Russian army was not surprising, especially after his previous accusations against the Russian army leadership, particularly Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, of betrayal, bureaucracy, and submitting false reports to the Russian president, which concealed the massive losses among Russian forces in the Ukrainian war.
Wagner’s owner had accused soldiers from the Russian Ministry of Defence of shelling his military group’s positions and vowed to take revenge on the leadership of the Ministry of Defence, holding them responsible for the harm to his forces. But Wagner’s owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, did not stop there; he also targeted some decision-makers in the Russian state, saying, “Evil in military leadership must stop,” and pledged what he called “a march for justice.” In a practical move, he withdrew his armed forces, totalling 25,000 fighters, from Ukraine to the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, taking control of the city and vowing to destroy anyone who stands in his way. His forces continued to advance through columns towards Moscow until the Belarusian president reached an agreement with Prigozhin to return his forces to their camps and stop the bloodshed.
The rift between Prigozhin and Defence Minister Shoigu became public during the recent Bakhmut war, which lasted about 10 months. Russia made significant sacrifices, especially within Wagner Group, which, according to Prigozhin, resulted in approximately 20,000 casualties. Prigozhin himself declared victory over Ukrainian forces but sent strong messages to the Ministry of Defence, accusing them of dragging their feet in supporting the group with the necessary weapons and ammunition to win the battle. Since then, the disagreement has been escalating between Prigozhin and the Russian Defence Minister and army top brass.
Last month, “The Washington Post” revealed that the leader of the paramilitary Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, had expressed a desire to negotiate with Kyiv in exchange for providing information on Russian army positions. According to the newspaper, these details were attributed to leaked secret American documents, which disclosed Prigozhin’s intention to strike a deal, allowing him to control Bakhmut in return for providing Ukraine with information on Russian forces’ positions. Prigozhin denied these reports, describing them as “ludicrous” and suggesting the possible involvement of individuals from the Russian elite behind them. He stated, “They are trying as hard as they could to drag my name through the mud.”
This behaviour by Prigozhin prompted the Russian army leadership to perceive him as pursuing his personal ambitions, which they see as a threat to Putin’s leadership and the grandeur of the Russian army, especially after the victory in Bakhmut, which made Wagner forces believe they were the sole achievers of this triumph. The Americans were not bystanders; they were trying to drive a wedge between Prigozhin, the owner of Wagner Group, and the Russian leadership. The United States even included him on its list of American sanctions, labelling him as possessing “the most powerful army in the world!”
Putin did not imagine that the blazing and rolling fireball in Ukraine would reach his own country. He hoped the special operation in Ukraine would come to an end and achieve its aims in the shortest possible time. However, the American and European support for Kyiv disappointed him and led him to occasionally hint at the use of nuclear weapons, and he in fact deployed Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus in response to Kyiv’s backers, especially the Americans and the British, who threatened to supply Ukraine with depleted uranium.
In light of these developments, which have been unfolding during the past two days, Putin delivered an exceptional speech broadcasted by state television, in which he said: “The armed rebellion” by the Wagner private military company is “treason,” and the response to the disobedience and rebellion will be strict and harsh.”
Putin added, “We are facing an armed rebellion, and there are those who were deceived into joining it. This armed rebellion is a stab in the back, and we will defend our country. We face traitors who seek their own interests at the expense of national security.”
As a practical measure, Putin imposed martial law in Russia and tightened security measures. He also instructed the military leadership to deploy Russian military units from the National Guard, Military Police, and the armed forces in the capital, Moscow, following the announcement to implement the “Fortress” plan to protect Moscow against any attack.
Despite the constantly changing situation, sometimes with every moment, and with the agreement concluded between the Belarusian president, in coordination with Putin, and Prigozhin to cease the bloodshed and return the fighters to their camps after his forces approached the capital, Moscow, the crisis caused by the Wagner Group’s owner does not seem to be ending in a state of reconciliation. Rather, this rebellion will leave deep wounds for the Russian state and will keep the prospect open for it to plunge into a state of chaos, if not escalate into a civil strife, which could potentially lead to its division. In addition to the possibility of Putin’s regime collapsing and the system he has been building for over two decades crumbling.
Whether Putin succeeds in eliminating Prigozhin’s rebellion or Prigozhin succeeds in overthrowing Putin’s regime, Russia is still politically losing ground, which will impact its international policy and lead to its isolation. This would allow the US to exert further pressure on China and confront the international manoeuvres seeking to loosen its grip on the international situation and its tools of control over the world economy.
Copyright LCIR 2023