The Wagner mercenary group's mutiny has weakened President Vladimir Putin and could affect the course of the war in Ukraine, analysts say.

The aborted weekend revolt led by Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin -- who declared a sudden pull-back after marching towards Moscow -- has damaged Putin's image, boosted morale among Ukrainian troops, and generated confusion.

It marked the biggest challenge yet to Putin's long rule and Russia's most serious security crisis since he came to power in 1999.

But it's not clear if it will translate directly onto the battlefield -- as Rob Lee of the Foreign Policy Research Institute points out, Wagner no longer had a key role in the Ukrainian theatre.

"Wagner forces were replaced in Bakhmut (in eastern Ukraine, the site of the war's longest and bloodiest battle) at the end of May-early June," Lee wrote on Twitter.


"I don't think any Wagner troops are currently on the front lines, or were pulled from there for this event.

"Wagner is designed for assaults and not for defensive operations. It was never clear what role they would play during Ukraine's counteroffensive," he added.

Ukrainian soldiers returning from the front line on Sunday said the Wagner revolt had not noticeably affected fighting around Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine.

- Putin's 'weakened credibility' -

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that Wagner's aborted revolt exposed "real cracks" in Putin's authority.

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Prigozhin's rebellion marked "a direct challenge to Putin's authority," the top American diplomat said.

French President Emmanuel Macron took a similar line, saying the revolt "shows the divisions that exist within the Russian camp, and the fragility of both its military and its auxillary forces".

Prigozhin's long-standing feud with military top brass over the conduct of the Russian operation in Ukraine boiled over on Saturday, when Wagner forces seized a military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don and advanced towards the capital.


In a fiery speech Saturday, Putin accused Prigozhin of treason and vowed to punish the perpetrators, accusing them of pushing Russia to the brink of civil war.

Just hours later however, he had accepted a deal brokered by Minsk granting an amnesty for the Wagner chief and his men, and exile to Belarus for Prigozhin himself.

"This episode weakens the credibility of Putin, who appeared to be in panic on television on Saturday," William Alberque of the International Institute for Strategic Studies told AFP.

"Everyone in Moscow is wondering: 'If it was a five-minute insurrection, why did the president talk about civil war?'

"On the other hand, if Prigozhin stays alive, all the Russian security players will feel they have impunity", he warned.

- The threat from Belarus -

Kyiv on Saturday said the unrest offered a "window of opportunity" for its long-awaited counter-offensive.

But Moscow insisted that the mutiny would not affect its operations in Ukraine.

On Sunday, Russia said it repelled several Ukrainian assaults in the east and south of the country, where Kyiv had announced gains.

But experts believe the mutiny will be a blow to the morale of Russian troops in Ukraine, who have endured heavy losses in 16 months for marginal territorial gains.


"This must affect Russian morale," said Pierre Razoux, academic director of the France-based Mediterranean Foundation of Strategic Studies (FMES).

"On the Ukrainian side, there is perhaps a momentum to be used to break through the front line, or at any rate to gain positions".

But he warned Ukraine would "also have to secure the Belarus border because they are not safe from a treacherous blow.

"If 15,000 of Wagner's men pour in from Belarus, they can do some damage. Maybe that's what Prigozhin has negotiated with Putin."

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