A failed coup but what now?

Jun 26, 2023
2PYYHRB Bakhmut, Ukraine. 05th May, 2023. Russian Yevgeny Prigozhin, owner of the Wagner Group of mercenaries broadcasts a tirade against Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu accusing the military command of starving his forces of ammunition and supplies, May 4, 2023 near Bakhmut, Ukraine. Prigozhin, standing in a field of bodies of his soldiers killed in battle threatened to withdraw from the frontlines. Credit: Pool Photo/Wagner Group/Alamy Live News

The only possible winner is Ukraine. Both Putin and Prigozhin are losers. The situation remains unclear and what happens next remains to be seen. Rationality does not seem to be part of events.

Prigozhin’s attempted coup appears to have failed for lack of support from the Russian military. Given his constant carping criticism of the military this is not surprising. The only thing new about Prigozhin’s action was the military rebellion and his public denunciation of Putin’s attack on Ukraine as not necessary. He assailed Putin’s justifications for the invasion by saying it was not run by fascists and NATO was not a threat to Russia. Putin in return used very strong language calling him a terrorist and said it was a stab in the back. He vowed strong punishment would be inflicted. Both parties attacked the other in a way you would think could not lead to anything but a loss for one or the other. So who has won and who has lost? The answer is that both have lost.

Belarus President Lukashenko has brokered a deal whereby Prigozhin can go to Belarus but now what? The initiative must have come from Putin who has talked of saving lives, but how convincingly? Prigozhin did not get support for his coup but Putin seems to have felt unable to carry out his threats. Putin may well survive in the short term but he has lost so much face and shown himself to be so weak that his chances in the medium to longer term are not good. As any Roman emperor can tell you, mercenaries are not always reliable. Will they fight again in Ukraine and who will pay them are just two questions. The Wagner group may well be facing Götterdämmerung, at least in Russia.

Putin has been driven by hubris and allowed his emotions to cloud his judgment. Surrounding yourself by yes men is aways dangerous. Both Putin and Prigozhin allowed their egos to get the better of them. How long will Putin get support from his military and other sources of power is a vital question and to what extent has his back down caused a loss of trust in his leadership among the general public? When a strong man appears weak in public, he loses an important source of support. As for Yevgeny Prigozhin, I would advise him to hire a food taster.

The only possible winner would seem to be Ukraine but just what will happen there remains to be seen. What will happen on the battlefield without a leader for the Wagner Group and with a probable drop in morale by Russian soldiers who have been told the cause they are fighting for is not right. This will presumably benefit Ukrainian troops whose morale will grow stronger. And, of course, what will foreign supporters of Ukraine do? Will this imbroglio have any effect on those countries which see the war as essentially a cold war battle between the USA and Russia? Overreaction could be dangerous. We can but hope that Putin does not entirely flip his lid and use nukes. That would appear to be a big mistake but so was the invasion of Ukraine.

The crystal ball is clouded over and we can only wait to see what happens next.


Article updated June 26, 2023.

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