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The mutiny could be a gift to Putin

By Alexander Gabuev

29 Jun 2023 · 4 min read

informed Summary

  1. Russia's war against Ukraine has exposed the weaknesses of President Vladimir Putin's military and intelligence machine, but Putin remains in power due to the repression and atomization of the Russian population and elite.

Russia’s disastrous war against neighboring Ukraine has exposed the hollowness of President Vladimir Putin’s carefully cultivated military and intelligence machine to the outside world and to people in Russia, including Putin’s generals, ministers, and oligarchs. In a system with alternative centers of power, such an incompetent ruler might have been toppled by now. Yet after 16 painful months of national humiliation, Putin is still in charge, and his regime has even fewer checks on it than before the invasion. The secrets of his success are the atomization of the Russian population and the elite through repression, and adaptation to the challenges the regime faces. Nothing indicates that the Kremlin’s reaction to the armed mutiny led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the notorious Wagner mercenary-army boss, will be any different. Ample evidence suggests that Putin will be able to muddle through as usual.

Like the invasion of Ukraine, Prigozhin’s mutiny is a disaster that Putin inflicted on himself. Created as a tool for doing the Kremlin’s dirty work while it could maintain plausible deniability, Wagner played a key role when Russia fueled tensions in Ukraine’s Donbas region and launched an undeclared war on the country in 2014, then in Syria, aiding Moscow’s efforts to prop up Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and later in various conflict zones in Africa. Putin himself said Tuesday that the “private” military group was funded entirely by the Russian government; the salaries alone, the president contended, had cost the state budget $1 billion a year. Yet Wagner maintained a high degree of autonomy—which, from Putin’s point of view, turned out to be a profound flaw.

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