Latest Development Reveals Putin’s Vulnerability

In the face of a mutiny that openly challenged his administration, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly stated that the mastermind behind the rebellion would be severely punished, but instead, he let the instigator go and prioritized containing the situation. It can be said that the incident exposed the vulnerability and fragility of Putin’s regime.

The one who revolted against Putin was Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Russian private military contractor Wagner, which has been complicit in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. After declaring an armed mutiny and taking control of some Russian military facilities, he sent his mercenaries toward the capital, Moscow.

Wagner had been recruiting tens of thousands of prisoners among others as fighters and sending them to the frontlines in Ukraine, and had gained a certain level of battlefield success. There has long been a power struggle between Prigozhin and the Russian military.

The Russian Defense Ministry had attempted to place Wagner under its control, and opposition to this move is believed to have triggered the mutiny.

This is the first large-scale insurrection under Putin’s regime, which does not tolerate any dissent and immediately suppresses antigovernment protests. In an emergency address, Putin called the armed mutiny “treason” and vowed to crush it. Such remarks appeared to be evidence that he is increasingly alarmed by the possibility that his administration might be shaken.

Amid the growing tension over a possible full-scale armed clash between Russian forces and Wagner, Prigozhin turned around and ordered a halt to his troops advancing toward Moscow.

Meanwhile, the Putin administration announced that it was dropping its investigation into Prigozhin for inciting the mutiny and that it would not charge the Wagner fighters who took part in the revolt. Prigozhin was reportedly set to leave the country for Belarus.

Putin was probably forced into the compromise of exonerating Prigozhin in order to avoid an engagement in Moscow. Unable to suppress the mutiny or punish its mastermind, Putin’s authority will inevitably slip away.

This seems likely to be a failure typical of an authoritarian regime that only allows in information that is convenient for its leader.

This incident will have a major impact on the situation in Ukraine.

Prior to the mutiny, Prigozhin publicly said on his social media that the aggression on ethnic Russian residents in Ukraine and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s plan to attack Russia — the claims Russia used to justify its invasion of Ukraine — were not true.

It will be even more difficult for the Putin administration to repress public doubts about the legitimacy of the invasion. Nor can Wagner be expected to continue to fight on the frontlines as it has in the past, at great human cost.

The chaos in Russia and the weakening of its administration were circumstances brought about by Putin’s own reckless actions in the invasion of Ukraine. If he wants domestic stability, he should immediately withdraw his forces from Ukraine and follow the principle of the rule of law.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 26, 2023)