Putin Humiliated by Own Pet

3 Min
<strong>Putin Humiliated by Own Pet</strong>

Tukoji R. Pandit

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of an army of Russian mercenaries called Wagner Group, took Kremlin by surprise as its fighters took over a southern Russian town, Rostov, for about a day on June 24 and started to march 200 km north towards Moscow.

The Wagner Group was founded after Russia invaded Crimea. It has nearly 50,000 fighting fit men on its rolls. The trigger for its ‘mutiny’ was provided by an alleged ‘missile’ attack on June 23 by the Russian military.  

Differences between the mercenaries and President Vladimir Putin had started to emerge as early as February 2022 on account of ‘neglect’ of the private army and failure to provide it sufficient arms and ammunition which exposed the Group to danger.    

The rebellion of the Wagner Group which has been an important part of the Russian invasion of Ukraine points to trouble within Russia and tars the image of the President Putin. Reviling all the Western denunciation and sanctions, Putin projected a macho image of himself and his leadership. He boasted about his victorious march into Ukrainian territories to show that the combined efforts of the West are failing to weaken his resolve to run over all of Ukraine.

While the extent of ‘victories’ he claims is under dispute, after 16 months of invasion of Ukraine, Putin has been facing some reversals at the hands of the weaker and much smaller neighbour as the Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky repulses the Russian advances and even takes back territories from the mighty Russians.

Now, in the midst of this comes the ‘mutiny’—never mind how short-lived—led by Prigozhin. Putin tried to draw a parallel with some past events in Russian history to seek mass support but it obviously failed to ignite the nationalist fire among most Russian who are said to be increasingly turning against his Ukraine misadventure.  

It cannot be called a sign of strength when Putin, head of a nation that was once the only challenger to the US, has to fall on mediatory efforts of a considerable smaller neighbour—virtually a client state—to broker a ‘deal’ with Prigozhin and see the end of his rebellion. The war lord agreed to call off his ‘mutiny’ in deference to the wishes of Alexander Lukashenko and retire to the latter’s country, Belarus.

Prighozin may have ‘stabbed’ Russia in the back, as Putin says, but the Russian President does not seem to have convinced every citizen. The Wagner Group mercenaries, including Prigozhin, were given warm send off when they headed for Belarus under the terms of the ‘deal’ brokered by Lukashenko.   

Of course, Putin has talked of ‘harsh’ punishment and all that but what punishment can he order when the ‘mutiny’ leader has moved to another country, clearly with his (Putin’s) assent?

Belarus may be very close to Russia but there is no knowing what Prigozhin might plan next to embarrass Russia. He seems to be particularly peeved at the Russian defence minister whom he calls a scumbag. He has also accused him and the Russian army of corruption.

Whatever charges Russia may have framed against him, Prigozhin moves to Belarus with the assurance under the Lukashenko deal that he will not be tried. The autocratic Belarus leader had also saved Putin earlier from facing a military revolt within Russia. The Russian president’s bluff has been called off even before he could move an inch against Prigozhin.

There was a time when Putin had come to the rescue of Lukashenko saving him from forces opposed to him. By saving Lukashenko from trouble, Putin had stood taller than physically bigger Lukashenko. The situation has reversed now. 

It is under Putin’s watch that Russia has been brought down from its high position as one of the foremost military powers in the world that had the potential to challenge the US, to its present low rank. Putin’s Russia has outsourced the task of standing up to the US to China whose support has become crucial for Russia’s survival as it fights economic hardship following sanctions and reverses in Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin can perhaps ignore how he is perceived by the outside world but he has to worry about his internal image since he fancies himself as lifelong leader. His popularity certainly dips several notches and, what is more important, makes him look like a weak leader when his own favourite mercenaries turn against him. Don’t forget, Russia is a very large and diverse country and its economy is on sick bed. (SAT)