The world looked at Russia with bewilderment, and Putin’s house showed big cracks | outside

The world looked at Russia with bewilderment, and Putin's house showed big cracks |  outside

4 questionsThe world has watched Russia in amazement: 24 hours of chaos amidst a rebellion has highlighted one thing: Putin’s house is seriously cracked. What happened?

Civilians stand with Wagner fighters in Rostov. © ANP / EPA

In short: Evgeny Prigozhin, a rising businessman and head of Wagner’s mercenary army (25,000 strong) appears to be perpetrating a coup on Friday and Saturday by capturing the southern Russian city of Rostov with his forces withdrawing from Ukraine and then sending a military column to Moscow.

According to Prigozhin, this was not a coup, but a “march of justice.” He demanded that Russian army commanders alleged criminal mismanagement in the war in Ukraine. Among other things, the soldiers there would be poorly supplied. Putin chose to lead the army (the critic) and accused his old friend Prigozhin of treachery and insurrection. After 24 hours of chaos and panic in the Kremlin, Prigozhin ordered his men back to their base. The mediation of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko offered a way out and Prigozhin (with a quick pardon for him and his troops) was allowed to leave for the neighboring country. Wagner’s soldiers were drafted into the Russian army. Many details about the events are still unknown, but Vladimir Putin sure comes off badly here.

Has Putin now repelled this assault on his throne and remained in power untouched?

Yes and no, because the Russian president is really still there (don’t ask how) but he still looks weaker than ever. What worries him most is seeing regular army units seemingly refusing to fight against Wagner’s rebel forces. In Rostov, Prigozhin’s men were greeted with coffee and sandwiches by the citizens as “our boys”. Prigozhin, who—unlike the chief who often remains in his bunker—appears among the troops at the front, proves popular in the street. What will Putin do? Do Americans blame all this? Not only in the United States and Europe, but also in Ukraine, people are now worried about a trapped cat that can make strange (nuclear) jumps. So developments in Russia were closely watched in the White House.

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How much damage has Prigozhin actually done?

Although the uprising appears to have ended and Prigozhin claims it was without bloodshed (at least one helicopter was shot down by his men), Wagner’s chief throws another huge stone into the pond in addition to his march to Moscow. In a video clip the day before entering Rostov, Wagner’s boss contradicted all of the Kremlin’s (invented) arguments for starting a war against Ukraine. And, according to Prigozhin, many Russian boys died from cynical power games. These statements were heard by all Russian soldiers. It could raise existing doubts about the usefulness of the war and also about the competence of Putin and other leaders. In addition, the Russian army controlled 25,000 important mercenaries while their leader went into exile.

Prigozhin is on his way to exile in Belarus.
Prigozhin is on his way to exile in Belarus. ©AP

Is the “Putin regime” bankrupt?

To specifically prevent this kind of rebellion, the former KGB member Putin created a “system” in which the country’s armed forces were divided and forced to work together in his interests (read: rewarded through corruption and other bribes). The army, the National Guard, the intelligence services, the police, and mercenary organizations like Wagner (there are more) all have their men and their heavy weapons. All this costs money. But Putin’s “divide and rule” tactics only work if the senior leader has unquestioned authority, position, and ability to pit rival factions against one another. That the parties now turn against him or offer half-hearted support raises questions among Russian experts “what this aborted uprising means for the loyalty of the poorly trained and demoralized Russian regular forces, as well as for the notoriously complacent Russian public, bemused oligarchy, and already regular troops,” he said. An American analyst, “Disappointed National Leaders from China to Chechnya.”

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The relationship between Presidents Putin and Lukashenko (Belarus) has changed somewhat since yesterday.
The relationship between Presidents Putin and Lukashenko (Belarus) has changed somewhat since yesterday. © AFP

Because does this rebellion have consequences beyond Russia’s borders?

It could not be otherwise, because Putin in particular likes to portray himself as a master of geopolitical chess. This is hard to maintain when the frogs are already jumping off the wheelbarrow in the house. So we’ll see how all this affects the “special military operation” in Ukraine. But Putin’s panicked appearance on TV (Saturday) was of course also seen in Iran, China, the Arab and African worlds, where Putin believed he was gaining ground precisely through his strongman postures.

It’s time to make the other leaders wait for hours and it looks like the lecture is over. And this is certainly not going to happen to the publicly wary Belarusian leader Lukashenko any time soon. He, the weakest link, might have saved Putin by offering Prigozhin a way out. Putin’s international (dictatorial) counterparts have no reason to take him seriously even if Putin’s “sycophants” no longer do.

US officials have a private eye on Russia’s nuclear arsenal and are focused on preventing chaos.

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