A week after an armed rebellion rocked Russia, key details about it are still shrouded in mystery

Did the mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin benefit from the internal help of the military and political elite in his armed rebellion which rocked Russia?

A week after the mutiny posed the most formidable challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s power in more than two decades, key details of the uprising are still unknown.

Uncertainty also hangs over the fate of Prigozhin and his private Wagner military forces, as well as the deal they got from the Kremlin and what the future holds for the Russian defense minister they attempted. to oust.

Finally, and perhaps the biggest unknown: will Putin be able to address the weaknesses revealed by the events of the past weekend?


Many observers claim that Prigozhin would not have been able to take control of military installations in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don so easily on June 24 and mount his rapid march to Moscow without colluding with some members. of the military staff.

Thousands of his private army marched nearly 1,000 kilometers (about 620 miles) across Russia without encountering serious resistance and shot down at least seven military aircraft, killing at least 10 airmen.

Prigozhin said they came within 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) of Moscow when he ordered them to turn back under a deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. This agreement granted amnesty to him and the forces of his private Wagner contractor group, allowing them to settle in Belarus.

Some Kremlin observers believe senior officers might have backed his push for the ousting of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov. Or they just decided to wait and see what happened.

“Wagner’s mercenary boss was counting on the solidarity of senior army officers, and since he nearly reached Moscow without encountering any particular resistance, he may not have been entirely mistaken,” the analyst wrote. Mikhail Komin in a commentary for Carnegie Endowment.

“It is quite possible that at the beginning of his ‘march for justice’, Prigozhin thought that he would find solidarity among many officers of the armed forces, and that if his uprising was successful, they would be joined by certain groups in the within the ruling elite. “

Russian law enforcement might share this belief. Some military bloggers reported that investigators were investigating whether some officers sided with Prigozhin.

A senior military official, General Sergei Surovikin, who had long-standing ties to Prigozhin, is believed to have been detained, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press, citing assessments by US and Ukrainian intelligence. It is unclear if Surovikin faces charges or where he is being held.

Russian military bloggers have reported that some border guards have been accused of failing to resist Wagner’s convoy as it crossed into Russia from Ukraine, and some pilots also face charges of refusing to stop the convoy’s movement towards Moscow.

However, there was no official confirmation of these claims and it was impossible to verify them.

Noting the lack of a more forceful military response to the mutiny, some cited the chaotic and uncertain situation and the Kremlin’s doubts about the use of force in populated areas.

Mark Galeotti, a London-based expert on Russian security affairs, said the government system is “hierarchical and slow” and does not encourage initiative.

“In this context, people would simply not be willing to act without direct orders, either because they were simply afraid of being suspended if they were wrong, or because in fact they had some sympathy for Prigozhin “, he added.

Pro-Kremlin analyst Sergei Markov said some members of the Russian military might have been reluctant to confront Prigozhin initially, but their attitude hardened after Wagner’s forces shot down several military helicopters .


Another mystery is the agreement ending the mutiny. Russia’s main intelligence agency opened an investigation against Prigozhin for the rebellion, but the case was later dropped as part of that deal. Putin, Prigozhin and Lukashenko all described it as a compromise meant to avoid bloodshed, but few details were released.

The future of Prigozhin and Wagner is also uncertain. Putin said mercenaries who did not take part in the mutiny can sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense, retire or move to Belarus, but it is unclear how many will join him and whether they will continue to form a single strength.

Prigozhin may not feel entirely safe under Lukashenko, who is known for his harsh rule and relies on political and financial support from Putin. The exact location of the mercenary leader is unknown. Lukashenko confirmed he was in Belarus; Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov would not say where he is.

Lukashenko can be expected to maintain tight control over Prigozhin’s troops.

“I suspect the way Moscow hopes this will play out is that commanders will go to Belarus and then possibly decamp for operations in Africa,” said Michael Kofman, an expert at the Center for Naval Analyses. “In the meantime, they will try to get Wagner’s heavy equipment back and then figure out how to use the base that chooses to stay,”

Others believe that the Kremlin will not allow Prigozhin to operate independently abroad as it did before. Reports out of Syria this week said Wagner’s troops had been ordered to report to the country’s main Russian military base.

Even though Russia has closed its criminal investigation into the mutiny, Putin has signaled that authorities will review Wagner’s books for any wrongdoing. This could pave the way for possible financial crime charges.

In a stunning revelation, Putin said the government had paid billions of dollars to Wagner, a statement that followed his previous denials of any links between the state and the mercenary group.

“It turns out that Vladimir Putin actually paid for the mutiny with taxpayers’ money,” analyst Andrei Kolesnikov wrote.


While Prigozhin’s stated goal was the ousting of top military leaders, including the defense minister, some see Shoigu coming out stronger.

“Curiously, the main beneficiary seems to be Shoigu: with Prigozhin and Wagner out of sight, Putin is now immune to a similar mutiny and any kind of experiments with private military companies,” analyst Tatiana Stanovaya said.

Shoigu could use the confrontation to get rid of any signs of dissent among the brass, she said.

But Komin, of the Carnegie Endowment, said the Prigozhin mutiny “revealed the depth of the crisis within the Russian armed forces, which are disillusioned with constant and war-weary failures, and within the military elites and of security”.

This could pave the way for other such authority tests.

“When senior and middle officers effectively respond to an armed mutiny with a ‘go slow’ strike, there is no doubt that Wagner’s boss will not be the last challenger to confront Shoigu and his allies and seek to capitalize on the unspoken but growing resentment within the Russian armed forces,” Komin added.

There is also a debate about the future of military contractors in Russia.

Vladislav Surkov, a former senior Putin official, has firmly argued that they pose a major threat to Russia’s integrity, saying private armies like Wagner could turn Russia into a “Eurasian tribal zone”.


Even though the quick deal with Prigozhin averted a battle for Moscow that could have thrown the whole country into chaos, the crisis exposed shocking weaknesses in Putin’s government.

After a stumbling response to the mutiny, Putin tried to undo the damage done to his position by a series of events aimed at projecting strength and authority. State television hammered home the message that a quick end to the rebellion made Putin even stronger.

He addressed army troops and law enforcement in a Kremlin ceremony that mimicked the lavish military rites of the Russian empire.

He visited the town of Derbent in the predominantly Muslim region of Dagestan on Wednesday during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha. He walked among cheering crowds, talking to people and shaking hands, and even posed for a photo – extremely rare behavior for a secretive and reserved leader who was notoriously cautious about social contact during the coronavirus pandemic.

In an apparent attempt to turn the page on the rebellion, Putin focused on issues such as the development of tourism industries in Derbent or technological innovations.

But despite these attempts and the damage control efforts of the state propaganda machine, Putin’s weakness and vulnerability have become evident.

“This mutiny was so shocking that the regime appeared to many to be close to collapse, which significantly undermines Putin’s ability to ensure control in the eyes of the political class,” Stanovaya said.


Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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