A man holds the Russian national flag in front of a Wagner group military vehicle with the sign read as "Rostov" in Rostov-on-Don late on June 24, 2023. Rebel mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin who sent his fighters to topple the military leaders in Moscow will leave for Belarus and a criminal case against him will be dropped as part of a deal to avoid "bloodshed," the Kremlin said on June 24. STRINGER / AFP
Riveting events unfold in Russia now that mark the acceleration of Russia’s collapse. Just a week ago, it would have been inconceivable to imagine that a favored Russian’s oligarch’s mercenary army would sudden turn tail and seize Rostov, linchpin hub for Moscow’s war against Ukraine, then march toward the Kremlin. The challenger is Evgeny Prigozhin, a thug and wealthy “warlord”, who has been criticizing Russian generals for months.
But last week he escalated his attacks by saying the war against Ukraine was completely unjustified. He said Ukraine and NATO were never going to attack Russia but that this was the excuse concocted by Russian elites who wanted the invasion so they could further plunder Ukraine for their own gain.
Prigozhin should know. He has made a fortune himself by pillaging and plundering on behalf of Russia and waging war in Ukraine in 2014 and 2022 as well as in Syria, Mali, Libya, and other regions in Africa. Now he wants to bring down the elites to stop a rotten war.
“The war wasn’t needed to return Russian citizens to our bosom, nor to demilitarize or denazify Ukraine,” Mr. Prigozhin said, referring to Mr. Putin’s initial justifications for the war. “The war was needed so that a bunch of animals could simply exult in glory.”
For that other statements, plus mobilization against Russia’s army, he’s now accused of “treason” by Putin and hunted by Russia’s armed forces. How this plays out is less important than the historical significance of this “open rebellion” against Moscow.
While Nepali soldiers-for-hire can bank in a month nearly double what they could earn in a year back home, conditions are brutal and many have been killed or wounded.
Even if crushed, he has opened a Pandora’s Box inside an increasingly restive Russia where ethnic groups are upset that their sons are cannon fodder and not those living in Moscow or St. Petersburg. More importantly, he can only be defeated if Russian troops are diverted from the frontline to Rostov and Moscow to stop his mutiny. That will help Ukraine’s counter-offensive.
It is also possible that Russian troops, or other disgruntled generals, may join Prigozhin and his Wagner rebels. If that occurs, then regime change is certain and the eventual expulsion of Russia from Ukraine will be enabled. Today, an early dispatch from intelligence sources inside Russia — later withdrawn — stated that an important brigade just refused to go to Rostov to fight against Prigozhin’s mercenaries. If, as reported, the 45th Guards Spetsnaz Detached Brigade (special ops forces) has stood down refusing to defend Moscow, or some have join Wagner troops, then it is game over for Putin and the war.
Prigozhin’s attack may never succeed, but he’s already dealt Putin a fatal blow. Until today, Prigozhin has been a critic who was protected by Putin because he laid blame for the war’s failures on Russia’s military and greedy elites. But now he says the war itself is a “lie” and has turned a behind-the-scenes power struggle inside the Kremlin into international headlines. And Russians may be brainwashed and frightened, but they are not stupid.
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.