Putin’s downfall is only delayed. It happens

Vladimir Putin is seen on monitors as he addresses the nation after Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group military company, called for armed rebellion

The Russian president’s televised address did not make him look like a leader sure of his power

Vladimir Putin’s short-term special military operation to bring kyiv to heel has turned into a two-pronged war with his control spiraling out of his hands. He had enough trouble on the Ukrainian front, with an enemy that refused to back down, backed by surprisingly stubborn allies. Its own military has been exposed to the world as a rotten facade rendered inadequate by decades of complacency and corruption.

Prigozhin’s Abortion Rebellion has now opened an internal front that has also exposed the weakness of the regime and the vulnerability of the country’s internal security. Prigozhin was able to seize and hold the Moscow command center throughout the Ukrainian War without a shot being fired. His heavily armed mercenaries could then advance hundreds of miles towards Moscow, largely unhindered, and with reports of Russian soldiers coming their way. On the way to Moscow, Wagner’s forces reportedly shot down seven helicopters and a transport plane – if true, one of the deadliest days for the Russian Air Force since the start of the war in Ukraine.

As with Ukraine’s recent incursions into Belgorod, the Kremlin lacked the forces to secure even key targets inside Russia. They were to depend on another private militia, the Chechens of Ramzan Kadyrov, who would have sent 3,000 men from Ukraine to confront Wagner. Moscow’s critical vulnerability will not be corrected without the withdrawal of already stretched forces from the front line.

As we have seen so often in Ukraine, Russian forces are unable to respond to unexpected crises without orders from above. This helps explain why Prigozhin’s men were able to get as far as they did. The fact that these stop orders were not received reveals Putin’s weakness. His desperation to avoid violent clashes between Russian soldiers and Wagnerian mercenaries led to the paralysis of the Kremlin accompanied by a frantic search for a way to shut down Prigozhin without bloodshed, ultimately spurring Lukashenko of Belarus into action. Putin is unlikely to care about casualties on either side, but he does care about the potential disintegration on the front line caused by a violent insurgency on the streets of Moscow or on the roads leading there. His speech to the nation comparing this uprising to the collapse of the front in 1917 reveals his inner fears.

Putin got all of this, mostly with his misguided invasion and failure to take effective action when things started to go wrong. But also by his Machiavellian policy of divide and conquer which allowed the condemned criminal Prigozhin to build a powerful private army.

The Wagnerian leader for months raged with impunity against government ministers and military commanders tasked with waging the war. It has gone further and further unchecked, and the events of the past few days have been the inevitable consequence of the failure to control it or get rid of it.

Putin’s poor judgment can surely only be explained by the psychological toll of an unwinnable war against a man until then considered by many to be a political and strategic genius.

This aura is now gone. With her, the reputation of an unsurpassable iron leader vanished, since he forgives the Wagnerian insurgents and leaves, temporarily at least, their humiliated leader in exile in Belarus.

The many Kremlin watchers who until now thought Putin was beyond internal challenge were wrong. Prigozhin may have walked off the stage, but his actions exposed Putin as a mere mortal. Moscow’s elites, who for decades depended on strong leadership, now see a regime crumble. Calculations of self-preservation will have taken precedence over fear and respect for an infallible leader who has brought them stability. Some have hedged their bets with their own private armies.

All of this throws the sharpest spotlight on the other front. A successful Ukrainian counter-offensive, which may have a better chance due to unrest inside Russia, could bring us closer to Putin’s downfall, which in turn could lead to the collapse of the Russian military.

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