Is the Wagner uprising a sign that Putin’s power is crumbling? How big is the danger for Prigozhin? What role does Belarus play? Can Ukraine hope? How experts assess the situation.
How is Putin’s role assessed?
Russia expert Wilfried Jilge sees a significant weakening of the Russian president. At the weekend, the impression of “weakness in decision-making and loss of control was created,” he said tagesschau24 interview. “Putin didn’t react at a moment of danger, wasn’t able to act on Saturday and gave the impression, so to speak, that Russia and its system are weak,” said Jilge, who conducts research at the German Society for Foreign Relations, among others. Even the security organs were apparently no longer in control of the situation.
Eastern Europe expert Gwendolyn Sasse also speaks of a “loss of control”. It was a serious situation. Putin has recognized that actors he created himself can also turn against him, she said tagesschau24. From their point of view, there is a “crack in the system”. “That doesn’t mean that Putin will fall now, but this question about the loyalties in the system was asked more openly than ever before.” At the moment, Putin’s role is not being questioned internally by more elites, so he’s “still relatively firmly in the saddle.” “But this memory of the moment can no longer be erased. And that can also develop a different dynamic over a longer period of time.”
Kirill Rogow, director of the consulting firm Re:Russia, sees the aborted uprising “not as the end of the story, but as the beginning.” Military rebellions, even unsuccessful ones, are often a harbinger in history, “the beginning of a process”.
How does the population see Putin?
Eastern Europe expert Sasse observes that Russia is now trying to return to normality. “Even in an authoritarian society, there is a desire for normality and also the desire not to have to deal with it more closely,” said Sasse.
Russia expert Sarah Pagung thinks it’s possible that support could dwindle as a result of the weekend’s events. “I believe that in the medium to long term, this nimbus of Putin as omnipotent, as controlling in Russia will, if not broken, then at least be tarnished,” she said tagesschau24 interview. “And that this will be something that will cause significant problems for the regime in the medium and long term.”
What did Prigozhin want to achieve and what’s next?
Eastern Europe expert Sasse believes that Yevgeny Prigozhin was concerned with preserving his troops. “He didn’t want to classify the Wagner troops under the Russian army and there is certainly a lot to it.” The political scientist Herfried Münkler assesses the situation in a similar way. With an incorporation into the Russian army “Prigozhin would be eliminated as an independent actor, both militarily and politically”.
In the meantime, the Russian mercenary chief has arrived in Belarus. According to Münkler, he must fear for his life. “I’m assuming that the Russians will liquidate Prigozhin sooner or later,” he told Der Spiegel. Russia expert Jilge made a similar statement.
Münkler believes that the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, who is now apparently giving him shelter, will hardly stand in the way of the Russian secret service. Regarding Prigozhin’s role, he said: “The more fragile a state is, the greater the warlords’ chances of success.”
What role does Belarus play?
It is clear that Lukashenko will be presented as a mediator. But experts do not believe that the Belarusian ruler will play an active role. “I would be careful with the representation that Lukashenko played an independent role as a mediator,” said Eastern Europe expert Sasse. “In my opinion, that is exactly the image that the Kremlin wants to convey at the moment. And it’s also the image that Lukashenko himself wants to convey.” In her opinion, Lukashenko is too dependent on Moscow. “I would rather assume that it all came from the Kremlin and that Lukashenko is once again doing what Putin tells him.”
Lukashenko commented on the events of the weekend for the first time and described the uprising as a danger to Russia. All those involved initially misjudged the risk of the conflict escalating and believed that the situation could be resolved in this way. Two people “collided into each other,” he said, referring to Putin and Prigozhin. “In this case there are no heroes,” Lukashenko added, also criticizing Putin.
What will become of the Wagner troupe?
Entry into the Russian army, departure to Belarus or back to the family. Putin has given the Wagner mercenaries this choice. Eastern Europe expert Sasse believes that it will hardly be possible to check who chooses which option. Since there are other private armies in Russia in addition to the Wagner mercenaries, Putin could come under pressure again in the future. “The scenario can repeat itself”, said Sasse in the tagesschau24 interview.
In the meantime, Kremlin boss Putin has admitted that the Wagner army was paid for entirely by the state. “We fully funded this group,” Putin said, according to the Russian news agency Interfax. On Saturday, he had described the Wagner people as “traitors” in view of their uprising, which has since ended. According to Putin, the group received a total of around 930 million euros from the state budget from May 2022 to May 2023. Officially, the Wagner Army calls itself a private military company.
What does this mean for the war against Ukraine?
The consequences of the Wagner mercenary uprising for Ukraine can currently only be guessed at. However, Russia expert Jilge expects that Putin will react to the recent events with more severity in the war. Ukraine cannot currently expect any offers from Moscow. That would directly jeopardize Putin’s ailing position of power.
Jilge calls the loss of the Wagner fighters in the war against Ukraine “a loss for the Russian army” – also against the background of the failures at the front. The Wagner troop is one of the few powerful units.