Wagner’s Rebellion Weakens Putin’s Grip on Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin finds himself in a precarious position following an armed rebellion led by Yevgeny Prigozhin and his private military company, Wagner Group. While Putin managed to avoid a violent clash with the mutinous group, the challenge to his leadership has left him with shakier control over the country and raised concerns about his ability to maintain power. Experts believe that Putin’s weakness has been exposed, and his recovery from this incident may be unlikely.
Damage to Putin:
The rebellion led by Prigozhin, a longtime ally of Putin, marks the most significant challenge to the Russian president’s authority to date. Prigozhin captured a key city in southern Russia with little resistance, garnering support from Russian soldiers and receiving cheers from the crowds. Videos shared on Russian Telegram accounts showcased his advancing forces.
Despite striking a deal with Prigozhin to halt the march on Moscow, Putin faced criticism for sparing the mercenary leader. Even state-run media channels questioned his decision to let Prigozhin off the hook, casting doubts on Putin’s leadership abilities.
Olga Lautman, a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), argues that Putin’s downfall began with the Ukrainian conflict, which saw anti-Kremlin revolutionary groups challenging the Russian military and government. The ease with which Prigozhin advanced towards Moscow emboldens other revolutionaries within Russia, portending further chaos.
Anna Arutunyan, a fellow with the Wilson Center, asserts that Putin is now “catastrophically weakened.” She points out that the deal brokered with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to defuse the crisis further exposes Putin’s vulnerability. Arutunyan believes this incident reveals Putin’s inability to control competing elites and highlights his failure to manage rivalries that emerge among businessmen and nonstate actors.
The Rise and Fall of Prigozhin:
Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef” due to his ties to the Kremlin, played a leading role in online efforts to manipulate the 2016 U.S. election. His Wagner Group gained notoriety for extensive operations in Africa and the Middle East, accused of human rights abuses.
The rift between Prigozhin and the Russian military escalated during the war in Ukraine. Prigozhin publicly criticized Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and General Valery Gerasimov for failing to adequately supply his men. Tensions reached a breaking point when Wagner seized the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, leading to accusations of planted explosives and infighting among Russian soldiers.
As of this point, criminal charges have been dropped against Prigozhin, but he is in exile in Belorus.
Putin’s Weakness Exposed:
The rebellion demonstrated Putin’s inability to control Prigozhin and his Wagner Group. While some analysts believe Putin could recover and stay in power for another decade, Arutunyan predicts that this event may mark the beginning of the end for his leadership. Putin’s reliance on businessmen and nonstate actors to maintain control has proven ineffective when rivalries surface.
Putin’s handling of the Wagner mutiny has left him in a weakened state, facing growing questions about his leadership. The rebellion showcased his vulnerability and exposed his inability to control competing elites within Russia. As other revolutionaries may be emboldened by the relative ease of Prigozhin’s march on Moscow, Putin’s grip on power appears increasingly tenuous. Whether he can recover from this setback remains uncertain, and his future as the leader of Russia hangs in the balance.