Is Putin Losing Grip? Russia’s Short Rebellion Leaves Behind Big Questions

Is Putin Losing Grip? Russia’s Short Rebellion Leaves Behind Big Questions

Is Putin Losing Grip? Russia's Short Rebellion Leaves Behind Big Question

Russia has recently witnessed one of the most serious threats to its stability and security in decades. A private army led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a former close ally of President Vladimir Putin, attempted to storm Moscow in a mutiny over the conduct of the Russian operation in Ukraine. Prigozhin is the chief of Wagner, a notorious mercenary group that has been involved in various conflicts and covert operations around the world, often serving as a proxy for the Kremlin.

The rebellion was sparked by an apparent air strike on a Wagner camp in the forest, which the Russian Ministry of Defense denied. Prigozhin accused the military's top brass of incompetence and betrayal, and vowed to retaliate against them. He also claimed that Russia was not under threat from NATO attack, and that Russians were not being persecuted in Ukraine. He suggested that the invasion plan was devised by the military leaders, and not by Putin himself.

Wagner's forces quickly mobilized and moved towards Moscow, seizing a military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, where they received some support from local people. There were reports that they had come as close as 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Moscow, while Prigozhin himself claimed that they were only 200 kilometers away.

Putin denounced the revolt as treason, vowing to punish the perpetrators. He accused them of pushing Russia to the brink of civil war. He also ordered his loyal forces to stop Wagner's advance by any means necessary, raising the specter of fratricide - the turning of guns upon fellow soldiers.

However, before a bloody confrontation could take place, Putin accepted an agreement brokered by Belarus to avert the crisis. Prigozhin agreed to withdraw his forces and accept exile in neighboring Belarus, where he was last seen leaving Rostov-on-Don in an SUV followed by trucks carrying armored vehicles with fighters on them.

The agreement halted an extraordinary crisis, but analysts said Wagner's revolt had exposed Putin's rule as more fragile than previously thought. They said that Prigozhin's challenge was unprecedented in Putin's 23 years of running Russia, and that it showed the cracks in his system of total control. They also said that Prigozhin's criticism of the war in Ukraine reflected the growing discontent and disillusionment among many Russians over the costly and unpopular intervention.

The rebellion also had international implications. Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky and US President Joe Biden discussed the revolt and reiterated their support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Zelensky said that he had again evoked the possibility of "long-range weapons" for Ukraine as it pursues a counter-offensive against Russian occupants. They also agreed to coordinate their efforts ahead of a NATO summit in Lithuania next month, where they are expected to pressure Russia to restore international order.

The question remains: Is Putin losing grip on power? The answer is not clear yet. Putin may have managed to defuse the situation for now, but he may have also opened a window of opportunity for his opponents - both internal and external - to challenge his authority and legitimacy. The next few weeks and months will be critical for Putin's survival and Russia's future.


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