Putin has been publicly “embarrassed” and made to “look weak” by warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin, say experts. Over the last 24 hours, Putin has suffered the most significant challenge to his premiership – as a convoy of rebels reached within 200km of marching on Russia’s capital Moscow.
In a desperate bid to bring the rebellion to an end this evening, the dictator went from vowing to crush the rebels to offering many of them official roles in the MOD and letting Prigozhin leave for Belarus.
Wagner Group’s threatening uprising came to an end this evening (June 24) after pro-Putin Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko held talks with Prigozhin. The mercenary boss agreed to stand his men down to avoid brutality in Moscow.
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Marc Polymeropoulos, a former CIA Senior Intelligence Service official, said: “Prigozhin has deeply humiliated Putin. This is not a victory for him [Putin], whatever has occurred that has caused this pause.”
“I think Putin is really looking weak in front of the Russian people. He is not gonna forget this.”
Wagner Group’s threatening uprising was stunted as pro-Putin Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko held talks with Prigozhin.
The mercenary boss agreed to stand his men down but things had been different just hours before. In the early hours of Saturday, the private militia had taken over a Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, a city to the south of Moscow, before starting their march to the capital.
Prigozhin initially announced the start of the uprising on Friday night, claiming Russian military generals were responsible for an airstrike on his men in Ukraine and said a “huge number” of them were killed.
Revealing details of the negotiations, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed charges had been dropped against Prigozhin and that the leader will now leave for Belarus.
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He also confirmed that Wagner fighters who didn’t join the uprising will sign contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defence.
Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, believes Russian military affairs can’t go “back to normal” after today.
Mr Lee predicts Putin will try to “force Prigozhin out of Wagner or subordinate it to a loyal figure”.
He said: “Over the past few days, Prigozhin elevated this from a conflict with Shoigu and Gerasimov [Russia’s top generals] to a challenge to Putin.
“He did not immediately back down after Putin’s speech, and he publicly demonstrated that he is a potential threat to Putin. This isn’t a sustainable situation.
“Putin will side with the MoD and security services in any future conflict with Wagner, and, when the military and security services are in a better position to force the issue, I suspect they will attempt to force Prigozhin out of Wagner or subordinate it to a loyal figure.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Saturday, shortly before Yevgeny Prigozhin’s announcement of his retreat, that Saturday’s events showed “that the bosses of Russia do not control anything.”
The Kremlin, he said, “showed all Russian bandits, mercenaries, oligarchs” that it is easy to “capture Russian cities and, probably, arsenals with weapons.”
Switching to Russian during his daily video address, Zelenskyy claimed that “the man from the Kremlin” was “very afraid.”
Zelenskyy used the backdrop of the situation in Russia to urge allies to give Ukraine F-16 fighter aircraft and ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles, as well as underlined the importance of Ukraine joining NATO.
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