On Point: The Wagner Revolt Leaves Losers Worldwide

by Austin Bay
June 28, 2023

A suspect deal between Russian President Vladimir Putin and mercenary commander Yevgeny Prigozhin ended the short-lived but stunning Wagner Revolt.

Revolt it was. The Wagner force took Rostov, a major city and the site of the Russian Army's headquarters for the Ukraine War. A Wagner flying column with tanks and mechanized infantry rolled toward Moscow. Wagner forces fought at least two heavy skirmishes with Russian Army units and shot down a half-dozen helicopters and a couple of fixed-wing aircraft. That's real combat, not a Potemkin faux-revolt.

Putin angrily called Prigozhin a traitor. Prigozhin clearly launched an attack on the Russian state.

Prigozhin has made several claims. Since January he's criticized Defense Ministry warfighting decisions, bluntly arguing the war is run by corrupt incompetents. The Kremlin's recent decision to disband his mercenary organization outraged him. On June 10 Wagner fighters were told to sign government military contracts by July 1. Prigozhin also claimed his move was a response to an attack (presumably by the Russian Army) that killed over 30 Wagner fighters. "We started our march because of an injustice," he said in an audio statement. The Wall Street Journal reports he intended to seize senior Defense Ministry leaders traveling in southern Russia. When intelligence services exposed the plot, he attacked.

Prigozhin has done well for a brutal thug and a caterer. He casts himself and his men as Russian patriots fighting for Russia in Ukraine, Syria and Africa. He definitely has many Russian admirers.

With the plot exposed, it appears Prigozhin gambled his bold act would ignite a mass revolt. That's grandiose to the point of delusion. Capturing senior military leaders wouldn't end systemic military corruption. Fundamental change requires removing Putin. Despite the surprise foray, the battles and global media focus, after 24 hours of rumor, fear and doubt Putin clearly remained in control of the military and intelligence services. If Vlad fled the Kremlin (a rumor) he returned.

The Wagner column stopped, retreated to Rostov. Prigozhin's men returned to their cantonment areas.

In Russia, and definitely in Putin's Russia, traitors, real or imagined, are executed, or assassinated. Their accomplices die hideous deaths.

So the ostensible arrangement has a definite brow-wrinkling quality. Putin remains in power -- check. However, Prigozhin avoids execution and enjoys exile in Russia-dominated Belarus.

The traitor lives. How long? Stay tuned.

But here's Putin's short-term payoff: The brow wrinkling arrangement has the appearance of strength and stability.

The arrangement enables these Putin-desired events. The Russian Army absorbs the Wagner mercenary corps. The glorious war to absorb Ukraine in Putin's reviving Russian Empire continues.

But it ain't all over. The Wagner Revolt fizzled, but it left a lot of dead and wounded soldiers and several political losers.

Putin is a definite political loser. Prigozhin, a friend and protege, had the guts to challenge Putin and organize a conspiracy that advanced to the trigger-pulling stage.

Prigozhin didn't dispute Putin's big lie about the Ukraine War, that Russia is fighting Nazis and NATO. The merc commander did something more lethal: He directly challenged the Kremlin's veneer of competence and its mystical trust in overwhelming Russian military might.

Corrupted military might -- slipshod training, buying poorly manufactured weapons, officers pilfering maintenance funds -- doesn't win the war to conquer Ukraine but at the bottom line it doesn't defend Mother Russia.

After failing to win his "special operation" in February 2022, Putin has bet on waging a long war that will strain Ukraine's allies and ultimately destroy Ukraine by attrition.

Russian will is attriting. Russia's "long war" strategy may be another loser.

I distrust mercenary organizations. In August 2000 I recorded an NPR Morning Edition commentary expressing skepticism about the UN's proposal to hire mercenary peacekeepers. In the 14th century, Italian Condottieri (contractors) mercenary companies often disregarded the contracts with city-states and took power to themselves. Wagner has done that in the Central African Republic. Fair bet Prigozhin's Wagner trainers -- while working for Russia -- have made some money from filched CAR natural resources.

Mercenary organizations are another loser. With Wagner kaput the Kremlin has lost its "plausibly deniable" military and economic actor in Africa.

Ultimately, communist China is a loser. The Chinese Communist Party fears its own people. Tiananmen Square demonstrated that. Putin survived but in Chinese terms he's lost face. That loss will affect the painstakingly constructed Xi-Putin bromance.

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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