July 16, 2024

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A year after the Wagner Rebellion | Vladimir Putin is more powerful than ever

A year after the Wagner Rebellion |  Vladimir Putin is more powerful than ever

(Warsaw) Vladimir Putin had not been in power for a quarter of a century when Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner paramilitary group marched into Moscow, weapons in hand, and shot down Russian military helicopters in the middle of the war against Ukraine.


A year later, the Russian president is at the height of his power.

On June 23-24, 2023, two months after the revolt, Prigozhin died in a suspicious plane crash. His group was actually reorganized and placed under the authority of the Ministry of Defense, which the rebels criticized for its corruption, its incompetence and its slow logistics.

Photo by Olga Maltseva, Agence France-Presse

A statue of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the former leader of the Wagner Group, has been installed at his grave at Borokovsky Cemetery in St. Petersburg.

Later, Vladimir Putin attacked ministry officials in the spring of 2024, even though it echoed the rebels’ demands.

Presented as a clean sweep against corruption, not a purge, the effort landed generals and a deputy minister, Timur Ivano, in prison. Others were dismissed.

Nikolai Petrov, a researcher at Chatham House, a British think tank banned in Russia, notes that “Putin has no disloyalty.”

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

Great cleaning

Sergei Shoigu, his loyal defense minister, was transferred to a prestigious but far less important post.

Photo by Maxim Shemedov, Reuters

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was sacked last May.

Mr. Putin entrusted the ministry to economist Andrei Beloussov. Among the latter representatives, the Russian president appoints a relative, Anna Tsvilyova, and Mikhail Fratkov, son of the former prime minister and former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR).

“The military corporation is one of those that can in theory play a more political role […] And Putin’s system is that no one should come from there to become the head of the corporation,” said Mr. Petrov sums it up.

The message is also that Wagner is not cleaning up the Ministry of Defense because of politico-military pressure, but out of choice and necessity.

Because if Moscow had the initiative on the battlefield after the fall, Russia was locked in a war it believed it could win in a matter of days. Despite its advantage in men and weapons, it failed to make a breakthrough.

Restructuring the military and crafting an effective war economy after years of conflict with the West is a priority.

“That’s true [Poutine] That it can take these steps, attacking the interests and incomes of senior military officers is evidence of its strength, not weakness,” notes Nigel Gold-Davies, a researcher specializing in Russia at the Institute for International Strategic Studies.

Just before this great purge, the Kremlin master consolidated his omnipotence by winning 87% of the vote in March’s presidential election.

A month ago, his No. 1 enemy, the enemy Alexei Navalny, died in dark circumstances in his prison in the Arctic, which did not provoke mass protests in the country.

Photo by Nanna Heidman, New York Times Archives

People gathered at the grave of Alexei Navalny, a staunch political opponent of Vladimir Putin, who died in Moscow on March 17 in an Arctic prison in February.

Govtov

The election shows he can “fake anything”, Mr Gould-Davies notes, “an expression of his dominance that he can do anything”.

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

On the political front, opposition has been all too easily eradicated within the country, and every week in Ukraine brings condemnations from ordinary citizens, opponents or journalists who have criticized the regime or publicly mentioned abuses blamed on Russia.

“Between the repressive measures and the exemplary prison sentences imposed on various people, he intimidated large sections of the population into taxation,” said Mr. Gould-Davies sums it up.

The expert notes that lack of pessimism should not be confused with enthusiasm.

And, a year earlier, observers applauded Wagner’s forces for taking control of the Russian army’s headquarters for the invasion of Ukraine in Rostov-on-Don, without firing a shot.

“There’s not a huge amount of excitement about Putin or the war,” Mr. Gould-Davies says, however, that “the lessons of the Wagner rebellion have been learned and make it less likely that he will be challenged in this way in the future.

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