The Wagner Mutiny:
Questions and Answers
It’s been a week since the Wagner Group, led by Prighozin, mutinied against Putin and the Russian Army. However, there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered. We will try to look at what happened and what it means for Putin, Prighozin, Russia, and the Ukraine War.
Although there are many possible reasons, the simplest is the most likely. Prighozin overestimated his strength within the Russian Army. Although there was talk about 25,000 Wagner soldiers marching on Moscow, there appear to be fewer – about 8,000. And, while Prighozin counted on Russian units joining him, they remained out of the fray, while ground attack helicopters loyal to Putin carried out attacks that seriously damaged the Wagner column. It became obvious that Wagner couldn’t capture Moscow, so Prighozin decided to cut his losses and make a deal.
Putin was willing to make a deal because defeating the Wagner group in the suburbs of Moscow would have taken days and the Ukrainian Army would have taken advantage of the internecine war to gain ground. In addition, Putin, who was uncertain of the loyalty of his forces, was afraid that a protracted fight might encourage his forces to defect to Wagner.
Although both got some of what they wanted, the problem has just been pushed down the road.
Will this be the only mutiny?
If history is our guide, no. In WWI, a war that was much like the Ukraine War in terms of fighting in trenches and the large loss of human lives, there were many mutinies
The French were being led by General Nevelle, who thought an all-out offensive would push the Germans back. What the French got was a bloody battle that caused many units to refuse to fight. That led the French to replace him with Petain, who stopped the bloody attacks and improved the treatment of French soldiers.
However, the number of mutinies increased during Petain’s first few months, and he finally had to resort to stern measures against mutineers before the back of the mutinies was broken.
Putin will have the same problems. Although he just gave the Russian Army a 10.5% raise in pay, there are still malcontents in the Russian Army. They will only need a hint of weakness by Putin to start another mutiny – one that will not have to travel hundreds of kilometers to Moscow.
Although many think Prighozin is the sole mutineer, there are thousands who are tired of the war, who will willingly help start another mutiny. That’s one reason Putin is purging the military now.
What is the Future of the Wagner Group Now?
Putin will do everything to defang the Wagner Group in Russia, Belarus, and the Third World nations it is operating in. Expect assassinations, transfers of officers, and arrests in the coming months.
The arrests will not be limited to Wagner people. Putin is already purging Russian generals like General Surovikin who appeared to be aware of the mutiny. Surovikin frequently disagreed with the Russian defense ministry on tactics and strategy in Ukraine.
Oligarchs, who sat on the sidelines or who are expected to have tacitly supported the mutiny may very well be arrested or assassinated.
Has this Purge hurt the Russian Army?
Yes. Stalin instituted a series of purges in the 1930s that eviscerated the Soviet Army. 25,000 Soviet officers were either executed or sent to the Soviet Gulag. The result was that the Soviet Army was unable to defeat the Finish Army and later the German Army. Even Soviet General Zhukov’s popularity after the war caused Stalin to strip him of his positions and relegate him to minor posts
Given the choice of a successful, popular general that can defeat the Ukrainians or a marginal general who is totally loyal to Putin, he will go for the marginal general. This has already been seen in the last year as Putin has gone through several generals in search of a loyal, effective general. All he has learned is that a successful general who commanded troops in Syria can’t be counted on to defeat Ukrainians.
Is the Wagner Group a threat in Belarus?
Satellite imagery shows the construction of barracks for 8,000 in Belarus. Although it isn’t a threat to Russia, as it has limited arms, it can be a threat to Ukraine if it decides to invade Ukraine’s northern border. That is unlikely as the Belarus/Ukraine border is primarily swampland and unsuitable for quick military thrusts.
Given the increasing tension between Russia and NATO, the Wagner Group could be used if there is an outbreak of hostilities in the future. The Wagner Group, as currently constituted, could reinforce the Belarus Army in order to prevent an invasion. It also borders Lithuania, which has no border with Russia. It is also close to Kaliningrad, which is Russian, but an enclave surrounded by Poland, Lithuania, and the Baltic.
Putin has made it clear that he would like Belarus to rejoin the Russian Federation. The Wagner Group could be used (if necessary) in a coup against Belarus President Lukashenko – along with the Russians already inside Belarus.
Did Ukraine take advantage of the Mutiny?
It took time to arrange an offensive and the mutiny was less than a day long. However, it seems that the Ukrainians are gaining some minor grounds in the last few days. This could be due to confusion and poor morale caused by the mutiny.
It appears that Putin’s aggressive defense against the Wagner convoy caused serious casualties amongst the ground attack helicopters, which have been critical to stopping Ukrainian units trying to pierce the Russian minefields. If the Russian helicopters took loses, were damaged, or need major maintenance before moving back to the Ukrainian front, it may take some days before they are fully operational.
Without ground attack helicopters supporting the Russian ground units, it will be easier for the Ukraine counter offensive to gain ground.
Remember, this is a slow, grinding battle that must pierce several defensive lines before the Ukrainian army can make use of its mobility.
Does the Wagner Group pose a long-term threat to Putin and Russia?
Yes. Putin is weaker now than before. However, the internal security services like the FSB, which is the successor agency of the KGB, and the Russian military, pose a larger long-term threat.
Expect Putin to rearrange the security services surrounding Moscow. The First Guards Tank Army, which has been the primary security force around Moscow, will likely be downgraded and most of the unit will be sent to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the FSB may take advantage of the waning power of Putin to leverage a greater role in the control of Russia, while reducing the power of the Russian Ministry of Defense.
Some western analysts suggest that the real future of Putin depends on his ability to balance these two groups.