Failed State with Nuclear Weapons
It's the third day since the attempted coup in Russia, yet there is no clarity on how much real threat it poses to Putin personally and how much of it is a smokescreen to preserve the slipping influence from his grasp. What is clear, however, is that the world's second-largest nuclear arsenal is at risk of proliferation.
Is it a military coup in Russia? Hold on, this is just its prequel. Why? Because in highly centralized Russia, all coups happen exclusively in the capital. And the tanks of the rebels didn't reach Moscow. They seemed to vanish in the steppes near Voronezh, about 500 km south of Moscow.
The attempt to seize Rostov-on-Don, located 600 km further south of Voronezh, also ended strangely. That's more than 1000 km away from the capital. This peculiar fact raises doubts about the sincerity of the rebels' actions. Despite shooting down at least one aircraft and several regular army helicopters during the events.
The speed at which Prigozhin himself pressed the "reverse" button and how rapidly tens of thousands of military personnel with equipment dissolved in the steppes near Voronezh raises doubts about whether there was an actual coup. Although there were tanks on the streets of Rostov and downed helicopters.
Rebels on Kremlin's Payroll
Rebels? Let's take a closer look. The private military company "Wagner Group," led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been in existence for at least 10 years. It is essentially a part of the Russian state's apparatus of violence.
Wagner Group started as a relatively small private military company, protecting the interests of Russian state and private structures mainly outside of Russia. Its notable operations include South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Mali, Venezuela, Mozambique, and Syria.
Since 2014, it became evident that Wagner PMC is a proxy for Russian security structures, including the Ministry of Defense and the Main Intelligence Directorate. From that year on, its numbers started to rapidly increase from a few hundred to several thousand. Initially, this was due to Wagner's active involvement in the hybrid invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Later on, it was because the Russian government began using the group in the war in Syria.
At the time of the open invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the core of the militants numbered around 8,000 individuals. By the summer of 2022, when the Russian invasion stalled and regular Russian forces started suffering defeats, Prigozhin received a real carte blanche from Putin himself. What else? Prigozhin was allowed to openly recruit mercenaries, despite such activities, including mercenarism, being criminal offenses in Russia.
Moreover, Prigozhin was allowed to recruit mercenaries in prisons. As an incentive, he not only received practically unlimited funding but also promised pardons to those who faithfully completed their contracts. By the way, there are already many former Wagner Group militants who fulfilled these conditions and received full pardons. If this is not integration into the state mechanism, then what is it?
As of the summer of 2023, the estimated composition of Wagner Group in the invasion zone of Ukraine was around 6,000 to 7,000 professional soldiers, plus at least 20,000 recruited former prisoners. They possess heavy military equipment, ranging from tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery to modern field air defense missile systems. This entire force was meticulously financed all this time. But suddenly, a coup occurred.
Although why suddenly?
An Old Russian Tradition
In the past 35 years, two coups have taken place in Moscow, accompanied by gunfire in the city center. During the suppression of the coup attempt in 1993, tanks loyal to the government fired artillery at the parliamentary building. History enthusiasts might also find it interesting to learn that in 1953, Khrushchev seized power and ousted his rival Beria with the support of the military.
But not this time.
On the evening of June 23, ringleader Yevgeny Prigozhin announced a strike by regular Russian forces against the rear positions of his militants. And he led his militants to Rostov. Prigozhin declared it a "march for justice" to stop the "evil that the Russian military leadership carries." He also demanded the accountability of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov.
People saw military equipment on the streets of Rostov, and it seemed the same in Voronezh as well. At the last moment, Yevgeny Prigozhin announced that he was halting the advance on Moscow after lightning-fast negotiations mediated by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Following this, Vladimir Putin publicly thanked Lukashenko for his assistance in resolving the crisis. It's a strange story: Putin's problem is being resolved by Lukashenko, who is completely dependent on the Russian president in political, military, and economic terms.
Why Lukashenko was here?
It seems that this is solely to avoid demeaning the status of the Russian president by negotiating with a former criminal.
Between the tanks on the streets of Rostov and Putin's gratitude towards Lukashenko, several bold statements were made.
Vladimir Putin initially frightened Prigozhin with terrifying punishments.
Russian General Sergey Surovikin, who previously commanded the invading forces and is considered close to Prigozhin, recorded a video message to Wagner Group fighters. In this video, Surovikin called on the militants to "stop the columns, return them to their permanent bases."
Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin's spokesperson, delivered the final blow by stating that Wagner PMC fighters who did not participate in the coup attempt would be able to sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense, the rest of the fighters would not be pursued, and the founder of the company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, would go to Belarus. The criminal case against him would be dropped.
. Source: REN-TV screen shot
The Fate of the Coup Plotter and the Fate of the Tsar
Expert forecasts diverge into several branches.
On one side, they predict the quiet poisoning of Prigozhin and the elimination of his supporters in battles with Ukrainian forces. In other words, they anticipate the complete digestion of the coup on June 24.
On the other side, there is another forecast of Prigozhin becoming a Trojan horse who will seize power from the increasingly weak Alexander Lukashenko. Of course, with the help of an actual military coup. And if we recall the announced movement of Russian tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus in spring 2023? Then we have a combo: an uncontrollable leader of a semi-military, semi-criminal group heading a quasi-nuclear state that directly borders three NATO and EU countries.
Regardless of the future fate of Prigozhin and his cohorts, there is something to ponder his creator, Vladimir Putin.
Prigozhin's coup demonstrates that Putin, regardless of the outcome, has lost control over the security forces in a nuclear state. This is an established fact, regardless of whether will the Russian Federation fall apart due to the defeat in Ukraine or if the security forces from Putin's circle devour the state from within.
What's next? Military and political troubleshooters in Brussels, Washington, Beijing, Tokyo, and New Delhi are stocking up on coffee and calming pills. For now, that's the only forecast that is clear until the end.
Short Report from The Gaze:
There is a significant protest potential accumulating in Russia, and an internal resistance movement against the regime has even begun. Kyiv has repeatedly warned about this, but for some reason, these warnings were previously perceived as mere wishful thinking.
Civil society practically doesn't exist in Russia; it has been dismantled during the years of Putin's dictatorship. However, there is a tremendous demand for justice. Specifically, people demand an end to the embezzlement of national resources and the suppression of civil rights.
Currently, the leader of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is attempting to exploit the average Russians' desire for justice. But he does so in a manner typical of criminal organizations.
Prigozhin's criminal past explains the criminal tone and coloring of his statements. He has had multiple convictions for theft and fraud.
Prigozhin's feigned separation from Russian President Vladimir Putin should not deceive anyone. After all, Putin nurtured this monster, provided him with unlimited funding, and allowed him to publicly mock high-level members of the regular armed forces.
It was the Kremlin's unleashed war that pumped Prigozhin with influence and his private army with money and weapons. It's akin to how bodybuilders are pumped with steroids before competitions.
Now, if he desires, Prigozhin is capable of playing his own game. It seems he has outgrown the level of "king's servant" in his relationship with Putin and has transitioned to the level of "baron-robber against king."
Prigozhin's incredible rise in influence occurred because the Kremlin, under the guise of a private military company, raised a proxy army over which they eventually lost control.
Private military companies typically fulfill the role of security structures that safeguard property in unstable countries. In the case of the Wagner Group, we see a structure that interferes in international processes as a proxy for another state.
Prigozhin's coup disrupted the gilding of the myth of "Putin's stability." Before the eyes of the whole world, a failed state with nuclear weapons emerged. And in this failed state, anything can happen.
The Putin regime has led Russia to the degradation of its state institutions, as vividly demonstrated by Prigozhin's coup. Russia has become a generator of global crises. In Brussels, Washington, and even Beijing, nervous calculations are being made to preempt potential actions.