Days after the rumored resolution of the Wagner forces’ rebellion and the transfer of its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, to Belarus in a deal rife with ambiguities, there are still many more unanswered questions than answers. Questions persist regarding the potential impacts of the rebellion on the Russian and Ukrainian front lines of battle.
The Russian interior, despite the coherence it attempted to display in the face of the enormity of the events, held its breath for hours on this difficult Saturday while watching the violent drama that carried a threat to the capital, Moscow, with the Russian military forces, which President Putin described as “betrayal and backstabbing”, approaching the capital. This scene brought to mind the Communist hardliners’ coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, which Gorbachev was spared thanks to Boris Yeltsin’s victory. However, it became apparent to everyone later on that the last Soviet Union president’s departure was only a matter of time.
There were some answers that were revealed later, including the answer to the big question regarding the absence of both Sergei Shoigu, Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, and Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff, from the scene of Saturday’s events, after the announcement of the capture of the city of Rostov-on-Don by Wagner’s forces, and Yevgeny Prigozhin standing inside the military headquarters in the city, to take pictures and broadcast clips in which he spoke of what he called a “march for justice”. A few hours after the rebellion had started, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), acting under the strict “anti-terrorist operations” system, placed the entire Moscow region on high alert. This system allows the Russian security forces to take extensive and exceptional measures against people, vehicles, residential buildings, and buildings in general.
Meanwhile, President Putin was focused on restoring his political standing after a sudden setback, while senior military commanders appeared to be on another mission related to the situation on the fronts inside Ukraine. Despite the accusations leveled against them of bombing Wagner camps, which resulted in the deaths of a significant number of its fighters, and Prigozhin’s assertion that this was done on direct orders from the Presidency of the General Staff, Russia’s senior military leaders exercised the greatest restraint throughout the events of what the Prosecutor-General of the Russian Federation referred to as the “armed rebellion”, despite the army forces suffering sporadic losses in the meantime
These leaders exercised the greatest restraint throughout the events of what the Prosecutor-General of the Russian Federation referred to as the “armed rebellion,” despite the army forces suffering sporadic losses in the meantime, represented in the Wagner camps,
Despite the accusations leveled against them of bombing Wagner camps, which caused the deaths of a large number of its fighters, and Prigozhin’s claim that this was on direct orders from the Presidency of the General Staff, these leaders exercised, -throughout the events of what was called the “armed rebellion” by the Prosecutor-General of the Russian Federation, maximum restraint, despite the army forces incurring occasional losses in the meantime, represented by the shooting down by Wagner forces of several helicopters containing Russian pilots who were ostensibly on missions to track Wagner’s advance on Moscow along the M4 highway from Rostov-on-Don.
Regardless of the part it played in creating this force, it can be assumed that the Russian army’s Supreme Command overcame the challenging day given that the legend of the Wagner forces on the battlefields was about to come to an end. Instead of engaging in combat with Wagner’s forces, it chose a different tactical course, allowing its leader, Prigozhin, to act rashly in order to expose his full sin to the Kremlin and the Russian public, a significant portion of which went on to support the state of mania and chaos that Prigozhin has been advocating for months.
Consequently, at a time when the Kremlin, represented by President Putin, was coordinating with his ally in Belarus the process of presenting the final scene and the terms of its settlement in a way that protects the reputation of the Russian regime, or at least what was left of it, The commanders of the Russian army focused their attention on the battle lines on the open fronts to prevent the Ukrainian counterattack from gaining any advantage from this sudden development.
Despite the successive withdrawals of Wagner forces from areas where they had been stationed and controlled prior to Saturday’s events, the most notable of which was the city of Bakhmut and its environs, the harvest of the military effort of the days that followed this extraordinary day demonstrates the surprising success of the Russian army forces in the mission that the Army Command and the General Staff had aimed to accomplish.
At a time when Kiev viewed the rebellion of Wagner’s forces as a golden opportunity to develop a counterattack due to the Russian army’s preoccupation with internal events, battlefield events have demonstrated the strength of the Russian defenses on all fronts. According to the New York Times, there were no vulnerabilities in the Russian defenses that the Ukrainian forces could exploit. Meanwhile, it was established that throughout the hours of Wagner’s forces’ uprising and the days that followed, none of the Russian army units departed from their positions in the south or the east.
Additionally, it was noted that the Russian army did not slow down the usual pace of fighting along the fronts but rather was eager to launch more than 50 missiles at Ukraine on Saturday and Sunday. This led Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov to recently declare that “expectation from our counteroffensive campaign is overestimated in the world”. In effect, the battles are complex in many different ways, and the Russian defenses are still very strong.
This outcome of stumbling and inability to advance the counterattack, and the recognition by more than one Western leadership of Ukraine’s supporters that Kiev is “late” in the timetable for the attack, is necessarily in favor of the Russian military leadership and represents a glimpse of a significant correction that will have consequences, especially in light of the murky experience of involving Russian Wagner forces in the battle, as well as the subsequent controversy and general uproar, the first of which fell on the Russian army.
That was in reference to the Supreme Military Command, which is obviously close to influencing Russian politics, but President Putin and the Kremlin’s inner circle continue to be of utmost importance. According to evidence so far, they are the ones who are most impacted by what happened. Numerous questions surround the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (FIS): Was it aware of the rebellion’s planning in advance? When was President Putin briefed on the information the FIS had, as he appeared surprised in his address to the Russian people? And how did the ruling circle permit the president’s options to be constrained and limited in dealing with the crisis to the point where he had to rely on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to manage the negotiations and accept humiliating conditions to pass Prigozhin, ending this scene, even though it appeared that he was only posing a threat to Vladimir Putin’s authority and status in person?
Lights in the Kremlin have likely not been dimmed since last Saturday, and they will not be until the Russian president finds answers to those existential questions about his regime and administration, especially as measures to be implemented in Russia and Belarus are being prepared. Many are haunted by the unwritten ending, which looms over everyone in the palace, including the president, as a specter warning them that they may have to deal with what is merely a matter of time.
This article was originally published in Arabic on 28 June, in the ad-Dostor newspaper.