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A year after the Wagner mutiny, Putin proves more powerful than ever

Photo: Yuri Kochetkov Pool Agence France-Presse Vladimir Putin, upon his arrival for a meeting with the King of Bahrain, May 23, at the Kremlin.

Caleb Davis – Agence France-Presse in Warsaw

Published on June 21

  • Europe

When Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner paramilitary group marched on Moscow, weapons in hand, in the middle of the war against Ukraine, shooting down Russian army helicopters, Vladimir Putin seemed vulnerable as ever in a quarter of a century in power.

A year later, the Russian president seems at the peak of his power.

The mutineer Prigozhin died in a suspicious plane crash two months after his June 23-24, 2023 revolt. His group was de facto re-established and placed under the authority of the Ministry of Defense, the very same one that the rebels criticized for its corruption, incompetence, and slow logistics.

Then, in the spring of 2024, Vladimir Putin attacked the ministry's executives, even if it meant echoing the mutineers' demands.

Presented as a clean-hands operation against corruption and not as a purge, this initiative led to generals and a deputy minister, Timur Ivanov, being imprisoned. Others have been sacked.

“There is no one disloyal to Putin anymore,” says Nikolai Petrov, a researcher at Chatham House, a British think tank banned in Russia.

The Russian president “exercises direct and constant control over all the most important actors,” he continues. There is no longer any question of giving anyone the autonomy that Prigojine had, or of appointing a soldier capable of controlling the loyalty of the troops.

Big clean-up

Sergueï Choïgu, his faithful Minister of Defense, is transferred to a prestigious but much less prominent post.

Mr. Putin entrusted the ministry to a technocrat, the economist Andrei Belousov. Among the latter's deputies, the Russian president places a cousin, Anna Tsiviliova, and Pavel Fradkov, son of the former prime minister and former head of the foreign intelligence services (SVR) Mikhail Fradkov.

“The military corporation is among those which in theory could play a more political role (…) and Putin's method was to not let anyone from it become the head of the corporation,” summarizes Mr. Petrov.

The message sent is also that he is not cleaning up the Ministry of Defense because of the political-military pressure exerted by Wagner, but by choice and necessity.

Car although Moscow has had the initiative on the battlefield since the fall, Russia remains entangled in a war that it believed it could win in a few days. And it fails to make a breakthrough, despite its advantage in men and weapons.

Reorganize the army and model an effective war economy for years of confrontation with the West is the priority.

“The fact that (Putin) can take these measures, attack the interests and income of senior military officials is the proof of its strength, not its weakness,” notes Nigel Gould-Davies, a researcher specializing in Russia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Just before this great cleanup, the master of the Kremlin also consolidated his all-powerful power with a tailor-made victory in the presidential election in March, with 87% of the votes.

Un months earlier his number 1 enemy, the opponent Alexeï Navalny, died in murky conditions in his prison in the Arctic, without this sparking mass protests in the country.

Also read

  • Kremlin denies orchestrating Prigozhin's death
  • The Wagner brand is on hold, but the model will last
  • Russian paramilitary group Wagner beheaded

Bow down

The election shows that he can “concoctate whatever he wants”, notes Mr. Gould-Davies, “the expression of his domination is that he can do anything”.

“Putin’s power is more personal than ever,” concludes the expert.

On the political front, the opposition has has simply been eradicated inside the country and each week brings its litany of condemnations of ordinary citizens, opponents or journalists who have criticized the regime or who have publicly mentioned the abuses of which Russia is accused in Ukraine.

“Between the repressive measures and the exemplary prison sentences imposed on various people, he intimidated and brought into line a large part of the population”, summarizes Mr. Gould-Davies.

The expert notes that one should not confuse absence of distrust with enthusiasm.

Moreover, a year ago, onlookers applauded Wagner's troops who had taken control, without shooting, of the headquarters of the Russian army for the invasion of Ukraine in the city of Rostov-on-le -Don.

“There is no large-scale enthusiasm for Putin or the war,” says Mr. Gould-Davies, but “the lessons of Wagner's mutiny have been drawn out and make it less likely that he will be challenged in this way in the future.”

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116