What scenarios will Wagner rebellion lead to?
Published: Jun 24, 2023 09:51 PM
President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation, the Kremlin said on June 24, 2023, as Russia faced a rebellion by the Wagner mercenary group that has vowed to topple Moscow's military leadership.Photo:AFP

President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation, the Kremlin said on June 24, 2023, as Russia faced a rebellion by the Wagner mercenary group that has vowed to topple Moscow's military leadership.Photo:AFP

In the 74-year history of the Soviet Union, there were no mutinies in the traditional sense that caused "regime change," and there were no rebellions of "warlords challenging imperial power" in Russian Empire, only palace coup has occurred. It can be said that there is no tradition of armed rebellion in Russia, and this time Yevgeny Prigozhin, chief of Russia's private mercenary group Wagner, launched an armed rebellion. It was a very sudden and rare case.

Putin said that those on "path of treason" or armed rebellion would be punished, but he did not mention Prigozhin.

as if Moscow still has a glimmer of hope for the surrender of Prigozhin. But judging from the latest reaction from Wagner, it is inevitable that the confrontation will continue. So what will the following confrontation look like?

Wagnerian forces led by Prigozhin claimed to have taken control of all military facilities in Rostov-on-Don, a strategic point with ample supplies, and Voronezh, which is only about 500 kilometers from Moscow. The Western media said that there is already signs of Wagnerian troops moving north from Voronezh.

In my opinion, there are several possibilities for the development of the situation.

The first possibility is that Prigozhin, once and for all, will lead his army to launch direct attack on Moscow, and to establish a new political regime in Russia. But in my opinion, though an attack on Moscow cannot be ruled out, but the likelihood of that is relatively least.

The second possibility is that, since Russia does not have a tradition of armed rebellion by warlords with their own troops, and after all, it is in the 21st century, the authority of the rule of law is an insurmountable political barrier. No matter how Prigozhin describes the reasons for his rebellion, it will be difficult for him to escape the label of "rebel leader", and he is unlikely to have a way out politically, unless he is pardoned by Putin and the Russian Constitution. In this case, it is not excluded that Putin's stern condemnation of his rebellion will have some effect in shaking the following of some ordinary Wagnerian soldiers to Prigozhin. 

How Russian society reacts next is also critical. If parliamentarians, the media and celebrities are generally on the side of Putin and the rule of law, condemning Prigozhin uniformly, then it is possible to create enormous pressure on ordinary Wagnerian soldiers. In his public speech after the rebellion, Putin made a distinction between ordinary Wagnerian soldiers and rebellion organizers, which also left room for those Wagnerian soldiers to break away from Prigozhin's command. But how Russian society will react, whether the majority of Russians are most anxious to end the war in Ukraine, or whether they are more afraid of the chaos and division of the country caused by Wagner's troops and are willing to stand firmly with the Kremlin at this critical moment, will be a test that will not allow any pretense.

The situation might drastically improve if Putin and Russian society can quickly dismantle the Wagner army. The Wagner army is made up of a very diverse group of individuals, including numerous prisoners hired from prison. They are not an army bound by ideals and disciplines. Prigozhin would be in a difficult position if this rebel force were to sputter and fracture within. Will that situation arise?

The third possibility is that the Russian army engages in crossfire with the Wagnerian army and new political opportunities emerge. A different scenario may arise, for instance, if the Russian army is successful in carrying out an operation to decapitate Prigozhin or if Prigozhin leads his army to seize one or more significant victories over the Russian regular army. The direction of the military operation may influence the political scenario in Russia.

It is now vital whether the Russian military will stand firmly with the Kremlin. Actually, Putin and Russia's top military officers have been bound together for good or ill. Because of this, Prigozhin's recent criticisms of the Russian Defense Ministry and the Russian General Staff did not cause Putin to waver his support to the military senior officials until Prigozhin lauched a mutiny. To break through this connection, more energy is required.

 Overall, the Wagner mutiny has had a significant impact on Putin administration and Russia's political stability. Anything could occur next. But I have a bold judgment: whatever will be staged in Russian politics next, Prigozhin's personal political end will be tragic.

From the perspective of Russia-Ukraine conflict, Ukraine has no chance of militarily defeating Russia. Its only hope of winning is to stimulate and drive internal unrest in Russia through a stalemate in the war and a certain counter-offensive effect. The situation presently appears to be trending in the direction that both the West and Ukraine would prefer, but the end result is unknown.

The author is a commentator of the Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn