Russia: On the Brink of a Military Coup?

Russia: On the Brink of a Military Coup?

Russia: On the Brink of a Military Coup?

UDATED BELOW. The Ukraine war has dragged on for over a year now, without the slam-dunk victory that Vladimir Putin thought was in the bag. Now it appears to some observers that Putin’s Russia may be on the brink of civil war. Or perhaps not. However, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the paramilitary Wagner Group, appears to be mounting a military coup.

Prigozhin has been in a feud with the Russian military over Ukraine for a while now, and has accused the Russian army of depriving them of artillery support, thus causing their deaths. In retaliation, Prigozhin pulled his Wagner forces out of Bakhmut.

The tension came to a head on Friday. when he accused Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov of sabotaging the war. On his Telegram channel, Prigozhin demanded that Shoigu and Gerasimov “must be held responsible for the genocide of the Russian people, the murder of tens of thousands of Russian citizens and the transfer of Russian territories to the enemy.” He also released an audio, which begins:

PMC Wagner Commanders’ Council made a decision: the evil brought by the military leadership of the country must be stopped. They neglect the lives of soldiers. They forgot the word “justice”, and we will bring it back. Those, who destroyed today our guys, who destroyed tens, tens of thousands of lives of Russian soldiers will be punished.

Prigozhin also stated in a video that the Ukraine war was not about returning Russian citizens “to our bosom.” Nor was its purpose to “denazify” Ukraine, as Putin has claimed. No, said Prigozhin, Russia started the war “so that a handful of scumbags could have a blast.”

He added that the Ukrainian forces are soundly defeating those of Russia. Meanwhile, Russian generals accused Prigozhin of mounting a coup.


Russia Stepping Up Defenses

Meanwhile, Gen. Vladimir Alekseyev, the deputy head of Russia’s military intelligence agency, urged the Wagner Group forces to stand down, adding:

This is a stab in the back of the country and the president. This is a coup.

In the meantime, the FSB, Russia’s counterintelligence service, put out an alert in Moscow. It also ordered roadblocks on the road from Rostov-on-Don to Moscow. The governor of the Rostov region asked his residents to not leave their homes, as Prigozhin’s fighters were in the city.

The BBC is also reporting the following events in Rostov-on-Don:

Early Saturday morning unverified videos emerged online, purportedly showing Wagner forces entering the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. One video seems to show armed men in uniform surrounding a government building, while two tanks aim their guns at the facility.

A Wagner tank was videoed in celebration of the capture of the Southern Military District Headquarters in Rostov.

North of Rostov, the governor of Voronezh reported a convoy of military equipment was moving along the highway. Traffic was blocked.

The capture of Rostov-on-Don is a major blow to the Russian army, as the city is home to the Russian southern military district command, a key to Russia’s war efforts.

Moscow began putting defense in place in preparation for a possible arrival of the Wagner forces.

Meanwhile Prigozhin announced that he and his fighters were “ready to die:”

All of us are ready to die. All 25,000, and then another 25,000. We are dying for the Russian people.

We will destroy everything that stands in our way.

As for Russian troops standing in Wagner’s way — according to UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, 97% of the Russian army is fighting in Ukraine right now.


Arrest Warrant for Prigozhin

Russia is striking back with an arrest warrant for Prigozhin. From the Wall Street Journal:

Russian authorities stepped up security in Moscow and issued an arrest warrant for Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner paramilitary group, on charges of mutiny after he called on his troops to oust the country’s military leadership.

Plus, the FSB issued these statements:

The FSB lawfully and justifiably launched a criminal case against Y.V. Prigozhin […] for organizing an armed uprising. His actions will receive appropriate legal assessment. The sentence for this crime is 12-20 years in prison.

Unless, of course, he’s defenestrated.

Prigozhin’s statements and actions amount to calls for the start of an armed civil conflict on Russian territory and are a ‘stab in the back’ for Russian servicemen fighting pro-fascist Ukrainian forces.


Will Prigozhin Succeed?

Probably not, say most observers.

Like former US Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor, who told the BBC:

The ministry of defence forces have the equipment, have the aircraft, have the tanks – they have the military equipment in numbers – to put down Prigozhin’s forces. 

The Institute for the Study of War agrees, saying that Prigozhin’s attempt to force a change in Russian military leadership is “unlikely to succeed.”

However, this could be very good news for Ukraine.

Russia Ukraine

The takeover of the Southern Military Command in Rostov strategically helps Ukraine, of course. But this goes beyond simple strategy — it goes to the psyche of the Russian army itself.

Former Amb. Bill Taylor said:

If the Russians are now worried about their chain of command, then the Russians that are supposed to be fighting the Ukrainians may be distracted and may even run.

While Frank Gardner, security correspondent for the BBC, called this a “lifeline” for Ukraine:

With the Kremlin and Wagner now preoccupied with their own struggle, this removes some of the most effective Russian fighting forces from the battlefield.

Even more importantly, this challenge to Moscow could seriously undermine morale amongst its troops manning all those fortified defensive lines that Ukraine is trying to break through …

But whatever happens next, the genie is out of the bottle.

This is Russia, and anything can happen. No one expected the vaunted Russian army to be bogged down in Ukraine, for example. But if you’re hoping Prigozhin will overthrow Putin, don’t hold your breath, because Prigozhin’s goal is to remove the leadership from the Russian military — not Putin himself.

However, Putin in a speech early on Saturday pledged “decisive actions” to quell the uprising. He said:

Those who organized and prepared the armed rebellion, those who raised weapons against comrades in arms, betrayed Russia. And they will answer for this.

Exorbitant ambitions and personal interests have led to treason.

There may be another Russian defenestrated soon. And it’s not over yet — this situation continues to be fluid.

UPDATE: Looks like it’s over.

Full quote:

They were going to dismantle PMC Wagner. We came out on 23 June to the March of Justice. In a day, we walked to nearly 200km away from Moscow. In this time, we did not spill a single drop of blood of our fighters. Now, the moment has come when blood may spill. That’s why, understanding the responsibility for spilling Russian blood on one of the sides, we are turning back our convoys and going back to field camps according to the plan.

Confirmed by the AP. That was fast.


Featured image: manhhai/flickr/cropped/CC BY 2.0.

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Kim is a pint-sized patriot who packs some big contradictions. She is a Baby Boomer who never became a hippie, an active Republican who first registered as a Democrat (okay, it was to help a sorority sister's father in his run for sheriff), and a devout Lutheran who practices yoga. Growing up in small-town Indiana, now living in the Kansas City metro, Kim is a conservative Midwestern gal whose heart is also in the Seattle area, where her eldest daughter, son-in-law, and grandson live. Kim is a working speech pathologist who left school system employment behind to subcontract to an agency, and has never looked back. She describes her conservatism as falling in the mold of Russell Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles. Don't know what they are? Google them!

  • Cameron says:

    The ministry of defence forces have the equipment, have the aircraft, have the tanks – they have the military equipment in numbers – to put down Prigozhin’s forces.

    I have Vietnam on line one and Afghanistan on line two. Not saying that Prigozhin will be victorious but that it won’t be a cakewalk for Russia either.

  • Stephen C says:

    Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.

  • American Human says:

    If the forces in Moscow stand down, Prigozhin’s group can be successful. No other Russian army forces have stood in his way as yet.

    The Russians do not want to be fighting the Ukrainians so it is possible this is an excuse to stop doing so.

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