Russia - Ukraine, Wagner Rebellion
By: CNN, Sharckles - Kyzzfmonline
June 27, 2023

The events over the weekend in Russia appeared as a surreal interruption amidst the ongoing conflicts in neighboring Ukraine.

Yevgeny Prigozhin's challenge to the Russian state erupted and faded within 24 hours, but the consequences of his short-lived mutiny may have long-lasting reverberations.

Despite Prigozhin's boasting, his Wagner forces were never a match for the Russian security forces. The scattered convoys marching toward Moscow lacked organization, direction, and sufficient firepower to challenge the regular military.

There is virtually no evidence that any regular Russian units joined Wagner's side, although some may have chosen not to confront them. It was surprising that Prigozhin's columns advanced as far as they did.

However, the saga was humiliating for the Russian military and embarrassing for the Kremlin.

A bizarre recorded encounter in Rostov-on-Don between Prigozhin and two senior military officers showcased his upbraiding of them, making it reminiscent of teenagers sentenced to detention.

Prigozhin even claimed that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had fled.

Prigozhin and his men managed to take over the headquarters of the Southern Military District without any resistance or shots fired, except for a few helicopters over the city of Voronezh.

Russian regular forces appeared to have sleepwalked through the day's events.

The brief drama compelled a visibly angry President Vladimir Putin to address the nation early on Saturday, threatening Prigozhin with dire consequences and raising the specter of civil war.

The sense of national purpose against alleged Ukrainian neo-Nazis, which Moscow falsely claims are creations of the West, was punctured by the melodrama that unfolded throughout the day.

Some moments, like the hasty erection of roadblocks on Moscow's southern outskirts and the mobilization of Chechen special forces to move on Rostov, resembled the 1991 attempted coup by Soviet hardliners against Mikhail Gorbachev.

Above all, the day exposed the transactional nature of relationships among Russian elites. What initially started as "treasonous" behavior and a criminal challenge to the state ended with a tawdry deal brokered by a neighboring dictator, granting Prigozhin a "get-out-of-jail-free card" and amnesty for the mutineers heading towards Moscow.

Russian state media made extensive efforts to show Putin's control throughout the situation. A state TV reporter, Pavel Zarubin, claimed that the president had been in touch with all law enforcement structures throughout the night.

In reality, Russia is not on the brink of civil war or major upheaval, even though there is a significant level of discontent across the country, according to Thomas Graham from the Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

However, despite Prigozhin being granted an escape route after risking everything to overthrow the military establishment, Putin's image was left weakened, even appearing somewhat naive.

For years, Putin had tolerated and encouraged Prigozhin's ambitions.

His Wagner private military company initially served as a cost-effective way to project Russian power in Africa and perform basic guard duty in Syria.

Later, it became a useful counterweight to the defense establishment, which Prigozhin increasingly reviled after the launch of the Ukraine operation.

Prigozhin's activism, his recruitment of fighters from Russian jails, their readiness to go on the offensive, and their ultimate capture of the city of Bakhmut, despite heavy losses, contrasted with the almost invisible leadership of the Defense Ministry and the ever-changing cast of generals leading the "special military operation."

Prigozhin's refusal to register Wagner with the Defense Ministry, along with Putin's scolding remarks, which went unheeded, may have pushed him into making his move.