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A Dangerous Game: How Putin Lost Control of His Secret Weapon


A Dangerous Game: How Putin Lost Control of His Secret Weapon


Russia is in turmoil after a stunning and unprecedented challenge to Vladimir Putin’s authority by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner paramilitary group and a former close ally of the president. Prigozhin, who is widely known as “Putin’s chef” for his catering business and his role in Kremlin-linked operations around the world, launched an apparent insurrection on Saturday, seizing several military facilities and threatening to march on Moscow with his troops.


The crisis was triggered by a deadly rocket attack on Wagner’s camps in eastern Ukraine, where the group has been fighting alongside pro-Russian separatists against the Ukrainian army. Prigozhin blamed the attack on Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, and accused him of betraying Wagner and Putin. He demanded a meeting with Shoigu and the chief of the general staff, Valery Gerasimov, to settle the score.


Putin, who has relied on Wagner as a covert tool to advance Russia’s interests in places like Syria, Libya, and the Central African Republic, was caught off guard by Prigozhin’s rebellion. He addressed the nation in a somber speech, calling Wagner’s actions “a stab in the back” and vowing to punish the mutineers. He also ordered the army to restore order and secure the military facilities.


However, Putin’s response was too little, too late. Prigozhin had already mobilized thousands of Wagner fighters, many of whom are former or current members of Russia’s elite special forces. They were armed with heavy weapons and vehicles that they had obtained from Russia or captured from their enemies. They also had the support of some local authorities and civilians who were sympathetic to their cause.


Prigozhin’s forces managed to reach the outskirts of Moscow before they were stopped by a massive deployment of Russian troops and police. A tense standoff ensued, with sporadic clashes and exchanges of fire. The situation was defused only after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko intervened and brokered a deal between Prigozhin and Putin.


According to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, the deal involved dropping the criminal charges against Prigozhin and allowing him to go to Belarus.


The deal was a humiliating blow for Putin, who had to compromise with a man who had openly challenged his power and threatened his security. It also exposed the fragility of Putin’s regime, which relies on a network of loyalists and proxies who can turn against him at any moment. It also raised questions about Putin’s ability to control Wagner, which has grown into a formidable force that operates independently and often recklessly.


The Wagner crisis also has implications for Russia’s role in the world, especially in Ukraine, where the group has been instrumental in supporting the separatist movement and undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty. The attack on Wagner’s camps may have been a deliberate provocation by Ukraine or its Western allies to weaken Russia’s position and influence in the region. It may also have been an attempt to expose Wagner’s activities and put pressure on Russia to withdraw its support for the separatists.


The crisis may also affect Russia’s relations with other countries where Wagner has been involved, such as Syria, Libya, and the Central African Republic. These countries may see Wagner as a liability or a threat rather than an ally or a partner. They may also seek to distance themselves from Russia or seek alternative sources of support or protection.


The Wagner crisis is a wake-up call for Putin and his regime. It shows that they cannot take their power for granted or rely on their secret weapon without consequences. It also shows that they are playing a dangerous game that can backfire at any time.

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