Mutiny and chaos in Russia considered a boon for Ukraine

When Yevgeny Prigozhin turned his back on Russia’s war to attack his own military leaders in armed revolt and march on Moscow, many Ukrainians described a sense of disbelief and vertigo.

Within a day, the revolt suddenly ended, however, and only their disbelief remained.

The sudden reversal of the mercenary leader and the announcement of an agreement with the Kremlin dashed Ukrainian hopes of an insurrection to overthrow the government. While many in Ukraine believed this left Russia in political and military turmoil that would surely have hurt President Vladimir Putin and his government, the relentless and existential war remained front and center.

Yevgeny Prigozhin speaks inside the Russian Southern Military District Headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, Russia (@concordgroup_official via Telegram/AFP via Getty Images)

Yevgeny Prigozhin speaks inside the Russian Southern Military District Headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, Russia (@concordgroup_official via Telegram/AFP via Getty Images)

As Prigozhin, who leads the Wagner mercenary group, headed for Moscow on Saturday, more than 50 rockets were fired at Ukraine, including one that hit an apartment complex in Kiev and killed several civilians, officials say Ukrainians. At the same time, Ukrainian forces routed a series of Russian offensives in the east of the country.

“Of course, whenever an opportunity arises that exposes the vulnerability of the enemy, that opportunity will be used,” Yuriy Sak, adviser to Ukraine’s defense minister, said from Kyiv. “But I don’t think it’s helpful for us to view yesterday’s events as a one-time opportunity for anything. For us, it is important to stay focused on our military objectives.

Ukrainian officials have said they view recent events in Russia as a distraction. The country needed to remain focused on its counter-offensive, although some admitted hope the West might see it as an opportunity to pressure Moscow into more rapid supply of new weapons and backing Ukraine’s bid for membership. joining NATO next month.

Whatever “the real objective of this masquerade”, Ukraine remains focused on its military plans. This is Ukraine’s only clear path to ending the war, Sak said.

The former British Army chief advised Ukrainian officials to take advantage of the disarray and continue to “probe attacks along the Russian defensive line” and find out where to deploy highly skilled and Russian-trained attack brigades. ‘West.

“This is a moment of opportunity for the Ukrainians,” General Richard Dannatt told Sky News, although he warned that kyiv should monitor their northern flank and Prigozhin activity in Belarus.

The Ukrainian army seemed to grasp the momentary turmoil created by Prigozhin’s efforts. Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, announced a multi-pronged attack near Bakhmut, the town the Wagner mercenary group had helped capture at the cost of thousands of lives.

Prigozhin rattled the Russian establishment when he called Russia’s reasons for the invasion “lies” by military and government leaders.

But then Putin’s former close confidant suddenly announced the end of Wagner’s march on Saturday. Russia said he would be exiled to Belarus and his mercenaries would be moved under the army.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the dramatic events were to Ukraine’s advantage.

Ukraine “continues to push forward with a counteroffensive,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “These are the first days, but they don’t have what it takes to succeed. This is going to unfold over weeks and even months, but it just creates another problem for Putin.

Wagner seized Russian cities that had become key to the Kremlin’s resupply efforts. The first city to be invaded by fighters, Rostov-on-Don, is home to the headquarters of the Russian Army’s Southern Command, the nerve center of the invasion of Ukraine and is essential for supply, command and logistics. It is along the route that Russian forces move into the Donbass region which has become the center of conflict in the war. That it fell so quickly should worry Russian military leaders.

Ryan O’Leary, an American serving as a junior sergeant in the Ukrainian army, said he and his comrades found the initial uprising “glorious” and hoped Rostov-on-Don would fall quickly and damage the resupply and capabilities of Russia. air.

Shortly after Prigozhin’s retirement, O’Leary said he still expects the situation to benefit his unit on the front lines in the days and weeks to come, particularly if Russia has struggled to bring in supplies to reinforce his front lines and that his officers had to determine allegiances. of Wagner’s fighters now under army command.

Other supply and leadership issues will come because of that, O’Leary said, “It’s just a question of where and how long it takes to start.”

What implications the deal might have for Russian military leaders whom Prigozhin has publicly lambasted, particularly Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, and how it might affect the war remain unclear.

The fact that Putin has sided with his military rulers will likely put pressure on them to deliver quick results on the battlefield, even if achieving that amid recent public infighting while welcoming fighters from Wagner could prove a challenge as Ukraine continues to press.

Yevgeny Prigozhin shows Russian President Vladimir Putin around his factory outside St. Petersburg September 20, 2010. (Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP file)

Yevgeny Prigozhin shows Russian President Vladimir Putin around his factory outside St. Petersburg September 20, 2010. (Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP file)

“Prigozhin has railed against these two for months, but Putin is keeping them in place,” said Phillips O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. “It makes Putin even more personally responsible for the conduct of the war.”

Achieving a quick victory on the battlefield will be a challenge amid the turmoil, said former Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Leonid Polyakov, who now works for a Kyiv-based think tank and advises President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The Prigozhin uprising could disorient Russian soldiers, from officers to officers, and drastically impact their motivation, loyalty and interests, he said.

“It is very likely that this will have a positive effect on (the) Ukrainian counter-offensive,” he said.

Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, who led US Central Command before retiring last year, agreed that now was the time for Ukraine to pull out all the stops and take advantage of the disarray. He said it was a tactical opportunity for Ukrainian soldiers on the ground. The Wagner fighters will be realigned under Russian military leadership and mass confusion may ensue.

It was also an illustration of Putin’s weakness, the retired general said, which should be seen as a major strategic event for Ukraine’s military leaders to consider.

“He is weaker today than he was 72 hours ago because the key to Putin’s survival is absolute and relentless control,” McKenzie said Sunday. “That myth has been busted and you have this disarray at the top, which I think makes it weak, vulnerable and, I would add, even more dangerous.”

This is why this moment may not be good news for Ukraine.

The main concern shared by several former military and diplomatic officials is that Putin could be pushed to show strength to refute this moment of weakness. This once again raises the specter that the Russian President may choose to use a tactical nuclear weapon to quell Ukraine’s counteroffensive and reinforce his strongman image that he has developed since coming to power in 1999.

Concerns that Putin might choose to use this type of weapon were again raised when he announced earlier in June that he would deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus next month.

“Putin’s story and Russian doctrine or philosophy is about escalating to defuse,” McKenzie said. “He’s run out of tools to do it non-nuclearly. So now you have to start looking at the things that could have irreparable consequences.

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