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Wagner Mutiny Means “Everything Has Changed” For Russia

One senior Conservative MP told PoliticsHome if Putin is eventually toppled, what might succeed him “may not be more friendly to the West”. (Alamy)

5 min read

An attempted coup against Vladimir Putin by paramilitary organisation Wagner, which came within 120 miles of Moscow over the weekend, means "everything has changed" for the Russian President's grip on power, according to military experts in Westminster.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the mercenary army, organised a rebellion against Putin after his soldiers seized two Russian cities. Fighters from Russia's army were positioned to defend their territory on the edge of the capital, including machine gun posts.

Prigozhin's Wagner group, which is independent from the state military in Russia's war in Ukraine, has played an instrumental role in the conflict by supplementing the country's armed forces. For months tension has been brewing between him and Russia's defence secretary, Sergei Shoigu, over their alleged failure to supply Wagner with sufficient military gear and equipment.

He has reportedly been furious with Russia's bungled invasion of Ukraine and their lack of decisiveness to win the war. 

On Friday evening, Prigozhin claimed Putin's forces had launched an attack on his troops and announced a "march for justice". But within less than 48 hours Prigozhin stood his soldiers down when they were 120 miles from Moscow to avoid "shedding Russian blood". 

Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian leader and dictator, said he reached a deal with the Wagner group leader to stop his men from making any further advances. Lukashekno, a key ally of Putin, struck a deal for Prigozhin to flee to Belarus, where he would not face further criminal charges from Russia for mounting an insurgency. 

Labour peer Lord Robertson, a defence secretary in Tony Blair's government and the 10th Secretary of NATO, said the Wagner mutiny will have “humiliated Putin” and has “dramatically changed the political weather”. 

Although the attempted Moscow coup was not completed, the Wagner insurgency highlighted the disunity on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and was the first direct threat to Putin's rule since taking the presidency. 

“This is a major crossroads in terms of what has been trying to do, because up to now, he’s been absolutely resolute, determined, even doubling down on what he's doing, despite the lack of success,” he told PoliticsHome.

“But now you've got this insurrection, and Pregozhin has not only challenged his authority, he's actually exposed the weakness of the case for invading Ukraine in the first place. And I think that's almost as important as the mutiny itself. Everything has changed.”

Robert Courts, MP for Witney, who sits on the parliamentary Defence Committee, told PoliticsHome that Putin's authority “has been immediately, seriously - and almost certainly irreversibly – weakened”. 

“We now have a recipe for even greater instability inside Russia as the twin power poles have grievously wounded each other – but neither fatally. The Wagner group’s coup has failed, its leader banished – but the cracks are equally showing in the façade of a Russian regime that values the appearance and the reality of overwhelming power above all else.

“This inherently unstable situation will need – and will be receiving – the closest possible observation from the UK’s security and intelligence agencies.”

Dan Jarvis, MP for Barnsley Central, and a former army officer, said the "extraordinary events of Saturday" illustrate Putin's increasingly fragile grip on Russia. 

"Now, more than ever, we need cool and calm leadership from NATO allies, working in concert to support Ukraine in its fight for freedom and to bring an end to Putin’s illegal invasion," he told PoliticsHome 

"The Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN recently said 'There is no purgatory for war criminals. They go straight to hell'. I don’t know where Putin will end up but, wherever it is, it must be via the International Criminal Court in the Hague."

A Conservative backbencher told PoliticsHome they believed if Putin is eventually toppled, what might succeed him “may not be more friendly to the West”. They pointed towards the events of the Arab Spring and said the conclusion means “more instability for the region”.

Prigozhin manned just over 25,000 troops after more than 20,000 were killed in the crucial months-long battle for Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. Although Wagner is not part of the official Russian military, they have had strong links to the Kremlin. It is expected many of the remaining soldiers who fought under Prigozhin could be embedded within the Russian military. 

Lord Boateng, who sits on the House of Lords defence committee, said global pieace and security is “best served by a stable Russia” coexisting within its own territorial borders.

“This is unlikely to be heralded in by a coup inspired by the Wagner Group who have done untold harm wherever they have intervened wether in Ukraine or Africa. Caution and vigilance has been and remains our best policy option in any dealings with Russia,” he told PoliticsHome.

Alicia Kearns, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said there was "no doubt" Putin's contract with the Russian people was "broken" after she claimed the recent events had undermined his promise of "stability and security" for "absolute state power."

“Putin’s internal security capabilities have also been exposed to be as weak as his offensive military strategy and capabilities. This is not over yet, and we must not forget that nuclear sites and ultimately power plants are being fought over,” Kearns told PoliticsHome

Richard Foord, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson, said Putin’s “'divide-and-rule' approach to managing those around him has back-fired.” 

“The up-rising by Prigozhin may have been premature, but it brings into the open the fact that Ukraine's resolute defence is revealing cracks in the Russian security architecture,” he told PoliticsHome

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