By Altaf Moti
The war between Ukraine and Russia has taken a surprising turn when Prigozhin and his group of mercenaries revolted against Putin and marched towards Moscow. They were stopped by a deal mediated by Lukashenko who offered them asylum in Belarus. This event has raised many questions about the future of the war and the region.
Prigozhin is the leader of Wagner, a private army that has been fighting for Russia in Ukraine. He accused Russia’s military of killing many of his men and threatened to fight back. He then led thousands of his fighters to Moscow but later agreed to go to Belarus instead.
Some sources say that this event has shown that Putin is weak and vulnerable and that his war against Ukraine is flawed. They think that Putin’s image as a strongman has been damaged and that he may face more problems from his own elite and military. They also think that Prigozhin’s revolt shows that there are cracks and discontent in Russia’s military direction and that some may be more open to talk or defect.
For example, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Prigozhin’s rebellion shows very serious cracks in Putin’s rule and questions the very premise of his war against Ukraine. He also said that the US is ready to work with its allies to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Former Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said that the recent domestic uncertainty in Russia could move us closer to a resolution in the Ukraine war.
Some analysts think that this event could give Ukraine more chances to win the war and get more support from the US and its allies. They say that Ukraine has continued its counter-offensive operations and has gained some ground in the eastern Donetsk region and southern region of Zaporizhzhia. However, they also say that progress has been slow and hard because of the mines left by Russian forces. They say that Ukraine has hit a bridge linking Crimea to Kherson in the south with British missiles, which could cut off Russia’s supply lines in the region.
Russia, on the other hand, has continued missile and drone attacks and has said that it has moved tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, which could make the conflict worse. Russia has also denied attacking Wagner troops and has started an investigation into Prigozhin for calling for an armed rebellion. Putin has called the revolt a stab in the back and has called for harsh punishment of the rebels.
For example, Putin made a televised address promising to crush what he called an armed mutiny. He said: “We will not allow anyone to undermine our sovereignty, our security, our territorial integrity.” He also warned that anyone who tries to challenge Russia will “regret their deeds more than they have regretted anything in a long time.”
It cannot be predicted what Russia will do, but some sources say that Russia may be ready to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine if it feels threatened or trapped. According to BBC News, discussion of using nuclear weapons has appeared in Russian media and some experts say that Putin may be trying to scare his opponents or test their reactions. However, others say that using nuclear weapons would be a last option for Russia and that it would face serious consequences from the world if it does so.
For example, BBC News quoted Dmitry Trenin, director of Carnegie Moscow Center, as saying: “The use of nuclear weapons is not a taboo for Russia. It is a tool of deterrence, a means of escalation, a way of signalling resolve.” However, the report also quoted Pavel Podvig, an independent analyst on Russian nuclear forces, as saying: “The use of nuclear weapons would be a disaster for Russia. It would isolate it from the rest of the world and provoke a massive response from NATO and the US.”
I cannot judge whether the agreement between Russia and Prigozhin through Belarus president is good or bad for Russia, but some sources say that it was a compromise that avoided a civil war and saved face for both sides. However, some also say that it was a sign of Putin’s impotence and weakness and that it may encourage his enemies and rivals.
Prigozhin, who has known Putin since the 1990s, has been a loyal ally and a powerful figure in Russia’s private military sector, but he has also been a source of controversy and criticism for his involvement in various conflicts and scandals.
For example, Fortune reported that Prigozhin gambled and lost, but he lives to fight another day. The report said: “The events of June 24 had observers searching for the right term to describe what was going on: Was this a coup attempt, a mutiny, an insurrection? Did Prigozhin seriously think that he would be able to enter Moscow?” However, the report also said: “Prigozhin’s abortive insurrection has punctured the ‘strongman’ image of President Vladimir Putin, both for world leaders and for ordinary Russians.”
Another aspect of this event is the role of Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, a republic within Russia that has its own armed forces. Kadyrov has been a loyal supporter of Putin and has sent his fighters to participate in the wars in Georgia, Syria and Ukraine. Kadyrov has claimed that he sent 12,000 Chechen troops to Ukraine in February and additional battalions in June and September 2022.
Kadyrov has been vocal on social media about the war in Ukraine and has criticized the Russian military leadership for their failures and losses.
Kadyrov said that he was ready to help put down the revolt by Prigozhin if Putin asked him to do so, but he also said that he respected Prigozhin as a patriot and a hero.
Kadyrov’s role in this event shows that he is a powerful and influential figure in Russia’s politics and security. He may have his own interests and ambitions that may not always align with Putin’s. He may also pose a challenge or a threat to Putin’s authority and legitimacy if he decides to act independently or against him.
For example, Al Jazeera reported that Kadyrov was among the few high-profile voices in Russia who confronted the reality of the Russian army’s retreat and the heavy losses suffered. He sharply criticized the military leadership, pointing a finger specifically at the commander of the Central Military District, Colonel-General Alexander Lapin, who was removed from his post in late October.
Kadyrov’s criticism echoed public invectives by Prigozhin, who accused Russia’s military of killing many of his men and threatened to fight back. Prigozhin then led thousands of his fighters to Moscow but later agreed to go to Belarus instead.
Kadyrov’s support for Prigozhin may have been motivated by his personal ties with him or by his dissatisfaction with Russia’s military direction. It may have also been a way of asserting his autonomy and influence in the region. Kadyrov may have seen Prigozhin as a potential ally or rival in the future.
Kadyrov’s involvement in this event may have implications for the war and the region. He may have increased his leverage and bargaining power with Putin or other actors. He may have also increased his popularity or hostility among different groups in Chechnya or elsewhere. He may have also affected the balance of power and interests in the region.