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Giant turmoil: Editorial on military rebellion in Russia by Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin

That Yevgeny Prigozhin has gotten away, seemingly unpunished, will severely dent the aura of invincibility that Mr Vladimir Putin has built around himself over nearly a quarter century

The Editorial Board Published 27.06.23, 06:10 AM
Yevgeny Prigozhin

Yevgeny Prigozhin File Photo

For 36 hours last week, the world watched agog as a military rebellion unfolded in Russia. While the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has, for now, managed to put a lid on that crisis, these events have fundamentally punctured his strongman image and have left behind questions that impact the entire world. Led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner paramilitary group that has been on the front lines of the war in Ukraine, the rebels took control of the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and the headquarters of the Southern Military District. Mr Putin declared them traitors and promised strong action against them. Rebel tanks were rolling towards Moscow when the script changed. The Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, Mr Putin’s ally, spoke to Mr Prigozhin and offered a way to diffuse the crisis. Mr Prigozhin has agreed to move to Belarus; Wagner will be disbanded and Russia will drop charges of mutiny against Mr Prigozhin and his fighters, the Kremlin announced. Yet, this is unlikely to be the final chapter of a saga that began months ago when Mr Prigozhin began publicly attacking the Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, and the country's military leadership for their failures in the war in Ukraine and for allegedly not supplying his fighters with enough weapons and ammunition.

Mr Putin has built his image in Russia and beyond as a leader who does not brook a challenge to his authority. Although Mr Prigozhin has never directly criticised the Russian president, last week’s insurgency threatened the very continuation of Mr Putin’s rule. That Mr Prigozhin has gotten away, seemingly unpunished, will severely dent the aura of invincibility that Mr Putin has built around himself over nearly a quarter century. The implications of Mr Prigozhin's actions extend far beyond the corridors of power in Moscow and even the gigantic land mass of Russia. The country is home to the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. Chaos in the country is a cause for global concern. Wagner's dissolution or reorganisation is bound to impact Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine adversely, given its central role in that conflict. Russia's ability to project military power elsewhere, from Africa to the Middle East, has taken a hit too. Mr Putin is still in power but even Russia's friends — like India — can no longer assume he is fully in control. Meanwhile, the West must desist from any act that adds to Russia’s instability. A giant is in turmoil. The tremors will be felt for a while yet.

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