Putin’s audacious incursion into Ukraine last year left many stunned and expecting the nation to buckle within weeks. Few expected Ukraine to withstand Russia for so long. No one expected Russia to befall an invasion itself.
However, the unpredictability of geopolitics was on full display as the Wagner group surged into the heart of Russia yesterday, resisting helicopter attacks and artillery bombardments. Major urban centers like Rostov and Voronezh, untouched since the Second World War, fell under siege and eventual occupation by the Wagner forces as they embarked on their relentless march towards Moscow. The situation at the capital was so frantic, Putin allegedly fled to his hidden bunker.
A potential saving grace for Putin emerged in the eleventh hour: a ceasefire engineered by Belarus, ostensibly preserving the embattled regime momentarily. With Putin’s rhetoric shifting posthaste from charging the Wagner group’s commander with treason to pardoning him of all crimes, the prospects for his regime’s continued existence seem more likely.
The thwarted Wagner insurgency, however, lays bare the frailty of Russia’s might. Analysts have long equated Russia to its aggressive, nuclear-powered Soviet predecessor, deemed the scourge of the West. After this most recent addition to Russia’s humiliating track record in Ukraine, it is hard to imagine anyone comparing Putin’s army with the revered Red Army of old anymore. This image transformation should be of paramount concern to Putin.
Putin’s reign is anchored in a deep-seated Russian nationalism, a sentiment he skillfully manipulates to retain power. His image as the torchbearer of Russia’s militaristic heritage is central to his grip on power. His crushing of Chechnya’s independence movement after assuming power skyrocketed his popularity, as did “reunifying” parts of Georgia and Crimea with the fatherland. Yet his successive losses in Ukraine, coupled with the shock invasion of Russia, stand to shatter the image meticulously crafted over two decades. Instead of the stalwart leader heralding a rejuvenated Russia, Putin now seems more like the architect of its fallen superpower status. Already, Iran and China have stated that the Wagner rebellion are the “internal matters” of Russia. Putin’s allies are picking sides, and it is not with him.
Russia may have survived the Wagner rebellion. Will Putin?
Written by Josh AppletonShare this: