On Friday night, political infighting in Moscow spilled out into the open, with Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, accusing the Russian military of attacking his forces and vowing to retaliate. In messages published on his official Telegram channel, Prigozhin also claimed that all of the Kremlin’s publicly stated reasons for launching the war in Ukraine were lies. Following these developments, Russia’s state security agency, the FSB, opened a criminal case against Prigozhin, accusing him of calling for an armed rebellion….
Prigozhin has seized control of Rostov-on-Don, the major logistical hub for the war in Ukraine, with vast stockpiles of munitions and supplies. He now has complete control of Russia’s ability to continue the war in Ukraine, giving him a strong negotiating position to settle his dispute with the Kremlin.
At this stage, an advance on Moscow seems unlikely.
It is dangerous to predict how events will unfold. Already the window for negotiations is closing.
There are reports of Wagner seizing a second major city on the road to Moscow, meeting little opposition.
Tom Nichols in The Atlantic:
“Think of this conflict not as a contest between the Russian state and a mercenary group, but a falling out among gangsters, a kind of Mafia war…..
But no matter how this ends, Prigozhin has shattered Putin’s narrative, torching the war as a needless and even criminal mistake. That’s a problem for Putin that could outlast this rebellion.”
Michael McFaul, former ambassador to Moscow under the Obama administration, in the Journal of Democracy, February 2023:
Putin’s luck ran out in 2022. By launching a full-scale, barbaric invasion of Ukraine one year ago, Putin has caused horrific bloodshed and suffering in Ukraine, hurting the very “brothers and sisters” he supposedly seeks to “protect” while also failing to achieve most of his war aims. But Putin’s war in Ukraine has also triggered deep damage to his own country, especially to Russia’s armed forces, the economy, society, and, in the long run, to his own regime. Ironically, Putin’s destruction of democracy in Russia decades ago created the conditions for this disastrous decision in 2022 — a decision that may eventually unravel the very autocracy that he constructed and has been consolidating for so long.
Autocracy has two major flaws. First, no one wants to give an autocrat bad news. Dictators only get told what they want to hear, leaving them badly out of touch. Poor decision-making is the inevitable result.
Second, suppression may quell dissent but leaves no release for the buildup of underlying pressures, creating the illusion of stability but fueling the potential to explode into violence at any time.
A breakdown of law and order in Russia, while it may have long-term benefits, is a dangerous situation that could easily spiral out of control. With disastrous consequences not only for the people of Russia but for surrounding regions within Russia’s “sphere of influence”. Belarus, Georgia, Syria, Armenia, Azerbaijan….. all are at risk of unrest as opposing factions attempt to take advantage of a distracted Kremlin.
It also increases the risk of high-risk behavior in Ukraine from the Kremlin.