Monday, June 26, 2023

Wagner quells the uprising, but Putin's hold is questioned


MOSCOW: Sunday, Wagner mercenaries returned to their base after Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to let their leader accept exile in Belarus to avoid treason charges.

The understanding ended a remarkable emergency - - a confidential armed force drove by Putin's previous close partner Yevgeny Prigozhin attempting to storm Moscow - - yet experts said Wagner's revolt had uncovered Putin's standard as surprisingly delicate.

Even though fewer police were visible in Moscow on Sunday, security measures were still in place, and people who passed by said they were unconcerned, despite the fact that Prigozhin's exact location remains a mystery.

As she walked through Moscow's Red Square, 70-year-old Ludmila Shmeleva told AFP, "Of course, I was shaken at the beginning." I didn't anticipate this."

She stated, "As President Putin said, we are fighting, and there is also an internal enemy who is stabbing you in the back." However, we are leisurely strolling around and do not perceive any danger.

To the cheers of some locals, Prigozhin was last seen leaving Rostov-on-Don in an SUV late on Saturday, where his fighters had seized a military headquarters. Through the car window, some people gave him a handshake.

His car was followed by trucks carrying fighter-equipped armored vehicles.

The Institute for the Study of War, based in Washington, determined from analyzing geolocated footage that Wagner forces were as close as 330 kilometers to the Russian capital, while Prigozhin himself claimed that "in 24 hours we got 200 kilometers from Moscow."

His conflict with the top brass of the Russian military over how the Russian operation in Ukraine was carried out culminated in the mutiny.

On Saturday, Putin called the uprising treason and promised to punish those responsible. He said that they were bringing Russia closer to civil war.

He had, however, agreed to a deal that was mediated by Belarus to avoid Moscow's most serious security crisis in decades later that same day.

On Sunday, ahead of a Nato summit in Lithuania next month, US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy talked about the revolt.

Zelenskyy made the following statement via Twitter: "The world must put pressure on Russia until international order is restored." He added that he had once more mentioned the possibility of "long-range weapons" for Ukraine as it pursues a counter-offensive against Russian occupiers.

The Kremlin announced that Putin's former ally would depart for Belarus within hours of Prigozhin's announcement that his forces would return to base to avoid "spilling Russian blood."

It also said that Wagner troops would not be prosecuted and that Russia would drop the "armed rebellion" charges against Prigozhin.

Analysts stated that the deal had revealed weakness in the power of the Russian president, and Ukraine took advantage of the chaos by intensifying its counteroffensive against Russian forces.

Alexander Lukashenko claimed to have negotiated the cease-fire with Prigozhin. Moscow thanked him, but observers noted that Lukashenko's intervention, which is typically regarded as Putin's junior partner, was embarrassing in and of itself.

"Prigozhin humiliated Putin/the state and showed that there is no longer a monopoly on violence," a tweet from the senior aide to Zelenskyy, Mykhailo Podolyak, read.

State-run Russian news agency TASS reported, citing an interview with Serbian television channel Pink, that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic attributed Putin's "strong reaction" to the abrupt de-escalation.

He was quoted as saying, "No one else alive today would have been able to stop it."

In the meantime, Russia claimed on Sunday that it had stopped new Ukrainian offensive attacks and insisted that the rebellion had no effect on its failing Ukraine campaign.

According to Ukrainian soldiers leaving the front line on Sunday, fighting around Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine had not been significantly affected by the revolt.

Nazar, a 26-year-old bearded soldier parked at a service station on a road that leads out of the Bakhmut area, said, "Most people, most military, understand very well that the circus from Russia is still here."

However, Kyiv stated that the unrest presented a "window of opportunity" for its anticipated counterattack.

Volunteers, former security guards, and thousands of inmates made up Wagner's fighters, who frequently found themselves at the front of Russia's advance in Ukraine.

The group also carries out a number of operations in Africa and the Middle East, largely with Moscow's blessing.

"Most people in Russia and the West didn't see the crisis of trust and institutions yesterday. It is now evident," an independent political analyst by the name of Konstantin Kalachev told AFP.

"Like he did with Zelensky before him, Putin underestimated Prigozhin. He could have stopped this by calling Prigozhin by phone, but he didn't."

Sunday, Antony Blinken, secretary of state for the United States, stated that Wagner's brief revolt represented "a direct challenge to Putin's authority" and "shows real cracks" in Russian state authority.

The march on Moscow also "shows the divisions that exist within the Russian camp, and the fragility of both its military and its auxiliary forces," according to French President Emmanuel Macron.

China's Foreign Minister Qin Gang met with Russia's deputy foreign minister Andrey Rudenko on Sunday in Beijing. China has maintained close ties with Putin ever since the Ukraine operation began.

After that, the Chinese foreign ministry expressed its support for Putin's government and described the mercenary revolt as an "internal affair" for Russia.

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