Rostov-on-Don – Voronezh – Lipetsk further in the direction of Moscow, connected with the very strong tones of Prigozhin in the direction of the Russian military leadership (not directly against Putin…). There were some surprises in the military and political assessments of the situation over the weekend. Surprise, by the way, on Saturday, especially in Potsdam, where shortly after the news about Prigozhin’s advance the sirens howled and the cell phones were “synchronized” on emergency signal – but this was a planned action accompanying the first Civil Protection Day, which had nothing to do with the events in Russia.
A flurry of excitement and a meeting of crisis teams. They hurry to emphasize that this is an internal Russian matter. Recommendation of travel restrictions, etc.
Then all of a sudden: stop of the whole operation of the mercenary force: march on Moscow is cancelled, “Return to base!” one would say. Orderly retreats, assurances of impunity for the Wagner troops , shutdown of anti-terrorist measures in Russia, relatively low casualties on both sides.
Fortunately, then, on Sunday evening, the TV panels featured the usual experts known throughout the country (unfortunately, or perhaps because of this, no active or former member of the Supreme Federal Armed Forces leadership) to point out the damage that both “Butcher” Prigozhin and the Russian president have now suffered. “Deep crisis of Russia”. “Preparation of the coup by a long hand”. “Red line crossed”.
Undoubtedly, there are shot conclusions that apply after the weekend’s events: mercenary forces and many special forces always have a tendency to become independent and know better what is good for the country (and financially for themselves). And: with a Prigozhin as the new ruler in the Kremlin, there would have been even more danger for a rational world order than with Putin.
So “back to normal?” That depends essentially on whether and how the Wagner Group will continue to exist and possibly be deployed. Possibly as a “reserve”, possibly from Belarus? Then Putin would have – in connection with the announced deployment of nuclear weapons with Belarus – a strategic and operational “leg to play” next to the mainstay Russia and its armed forces.
That this coup attempt (if it was one) against the Russian military leadership began and was completed over the weekend is astonishing. Didn’t everything go off too smoothly? Could 25,000 fighters have really stood up to the Russian military in any way (and to the population)? Or has the West once again – after the “Little Green Men”, also called “polite people” in Russian, the events in Crimea, and Russia’s treaty proposals in December 2021 – fallen for the Russian principle of “Maskirovka” or, in English, “Perception Management”?
However, if this assessment does not hold, it will be very interesting: Putin can use his forces and means to eliminate the Wagner group where, how and when he wants. Politically, economically and also physically/kinetically. And he can, since it is (hastily confirmed by Anthony Blinken) an “internal affair” of Russia, use any means, even the last available means in the arsenal. Russia, for the most part, will not resent him for this, because Putin is protecting Russia. The West has bound itself by jumping to conclusions that “one war criminal is cleaning up after another war criminal,” and Putin’s determination against the Wagner group with all the weapons in the arsenal would possibly lead to considerations regarding support for Ukraine. The quandary politically is with us, not with Russia.
We will know shortly. Above all, we must not forget one thing: All protagonists, whether of Russia or of the Wagner group, especially its leadership, are to be tried in The Hague for their war crimes in Ukraine, if no arrest warrants have yet been issued.
Major General (ret) Reinhard Wolski, Chairman Berlin Security Conference