The Wagner mutiny will have seismic consequences for Russia and the world
Many Russia watchers expected some kind of coup would take place against Vladimir Putin's regime should the Russian army and its allied militias and mercenaries fail to achieve a victory significant enough to be marketable at home.
The Russian army indeed failed, due to Ukrainian resistance and sustained Western support, yet a few imagined this scenario would take place so soon - less than a year and a half into Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Despite his own role in committing war crimes in Ukraine and elsewhere, Prigozhin has issued unprecedented criticism of the rationale of the war in the past few days, capping a long airing of grievances against the Ministry of Defence, which he accused of betrayal and corruption, especially in the Battle of Bakhmut.
While personal rivalries, competition for power and the succession of Putin, and the dynamics of factionalism within the Russian war effort are all factors fuelling Prigozhin’s move, it is ultimately the failure of the war that has instigated this deadly blame game.
The situation is moving so quickly and involves so many variables that it would be dishonest to chart out its outcome.
Unverified reports suggest a serious military conflict is developing between multiple factions. Units in the regular Russian army and National Guard are reportedly switching sides. Air strikes have been reported inside Russia targeting Wagner columns marching eastwards, with their eyes on Moscow. And it appears that Russian oligarchs are fleeing quickly on private jets, perhaps intending for Istanbul and Dubai, both hubs of Russian exiled wealth and talent.
The script seems to follow the current Sudanese civil war, in which not so coincidentally Wagner itself is involved, on one side - the RSF genocidal militia - against the national army.
But unlike Sudan, Russia is a nuclear-armed world power, and Rostov, now reportedly fallen to Wagner, is home to Russian nuclear assets.
There are many known unknowns and questions here no one but the flow of events can answer.
Will the Russian regime collapse or will this mutiny be nipped in the bud? Will it turn into a prolonged civil war in the world’s largest country straddling two ends of the known world? Will the Russian position in Ukraine collapse as some are predicting, and will Russian troops in Ukraine be called home to join one side or the other?
Beyond Russia, how will the world powers react? How will the event impact the already-testy global alliances? What implications will this mutiny have for Russia’s key ally China, and for nuclear proliferation, international security, oil markets, commodities, currencies and global trade?
The Ukraine war exposed the structural weakness of the Russian army, the astonishing corruption of the Russian state, and the flimsy threads that bind together Putin’s regime. Its incredibly effective propaganda fooled not only Russians and the world but fooled itself, successfully hiding its true nature: Putin’s regime is no more or less stable than any dictatorship in the Global South.
This uprising will drive this fact home to dire conclusions. No matter its outcome, it is a seismic shift. At best, it would further weaken Russia and destabilise its homeland, neighbourhood, and wherever it has influence. While Ukraine may see a silver lining, at worst, this event could reproduce the moment of the Soviet Union’s collapse, with all the misery and dread this may unleash on Russians and the world.
Karim Traboulsi is the Managing Editor of The New Arab since May 2019. His journalism career spans 14 years working as an editor, writer, and translator in Middle East-focused news media.
Follow him on Twitter: @kareemios
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