'Putin has been making mistake after mistake': Russian leader weakened

'Putin has been making mistake after mistake': Russian leader weakened

June 25, 2023

‘Putin has never been so humiliated and weak’: Russia experts say strongman president has been reduced to a bystander after begging Lukashenko to negotiate truce with Wagner leader Prigozhin

  • Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary force, on Saturday announced that he was ending his uprising and withdrawing his troops
  • Prigozhin said he had agreed to go into exile in Belarus, despite his forces coming within 120 miles of Moscow on Saturday
  • It was unclear how the deal between Vladimir Putin and his former henchman was reached, but analysts said Putin has been severely weakened 

Vladimir Putin has been left significantly weakened by the remarkable mutiny of the Wagner mercenary group, experts have said – despite the militia leader announcing on Saturday he had agreed to halt his march on Moscow, and would himself go into exile in Belarus.

Yevgeny Prigozhin’s uprising marked the biggest challenge to Putin in his more than two decades in power.

It fizzled out on Saturday – but not before Prigozhin’s men took the southern city of Rostov-on-Don and came within 120 miles of Moscow.

Under the deal announced by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Prigozhin will go to neighboring Belarus and charges of mounting an armed rebellion will be dropped.

The government said it also would not prosecute fighters who took part.

Prigozhin’s decision to abandon his challenge to Putin’s power remains mysterious, and much speculation was swirling on Saturday night as to why he had backed down, and what the intense and surreal uprising was all about.

Yet while Putin appeared to have won this skirmish, Russia analysts said that the 70-year-old – who has served continuously as president or prime minister since 1999 – was wounded in the battle.

Garry Kasparov, the chess champion who has become one of Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, said the Russian leader was ‘humiliated’ by Prigozhin’s advance

Vladimir Putin has been left severely weakened by the mutiny of Yevgeny Prigozhin (right), analysts said

Kasparov said that Putin had been deeply shaken by Prigozhin’s offensive

Garry Kasparov, the chess champion who has become one of the foremost leaders of the Russian democratic opposition, said Putin had been ‘humiliated’ by Prigozhin.

‘The game ended with Putin’s worst humiliation – a run for his life from Moscow when Prigozhin’s army was hundreds of miles away,’ he told CNN.

One of several planes that Putin uses for official visits took off from Moscow at 2.15 pm local time, according to Flight Radar, which tracks aircraft in real-time. Many speculated that Putin had fled Moscow for St Petersburg, but Peskov, his spokesman, insisted he was still ‘working at the Kremlin’.

Kasparov added: ‘Many of Putin’s top officials ran for cover. A dictator relies on his aura of invincibility.’

Sergey Sanovich, Hoover Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, who specializes in disinformation and autocracies, said Putin had never looked so weak.

He said needing Belarus’s dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, to negotiate with Prigozhin on his behalf was a sign of how enfeebled he was.

‘Prigozhin makes a daring move and gets away with it, potentially with additional gains to come,’ said Sanovich.

‘Lukashenko saves the day. Putin reduced to a bystander, complaining on TV and letting his top generals be humiliated.

‘Never in a quarter century Putin looked so ineffectual and hapless.’

A local resident walks past members of Wagner group in Rostov-on-Don on Saturday

Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, is seen with Putin in Sochi on June 9. Lukashenko negotiated with Prigozhin to secure a deal

Sanovich’s view on the involvement of Lukashenko was shared by Michael McFaul, Barack Obama’s advisor on Russia from 2009-11, who then became the U.S. ambassador to Moscow.

McFaul tweeted: ‘Putin could not control a mercenary force that he created & run by his buddy. He had to rely on Lukashenko of all people to cut a deal with a guy he called just hours ago a traitor.

‘These are signs of real weakness, not strength.’

He added: ‘What has weakened Putin’s grip on power? His disastrous war in Ukraine.

‘The longer the war continues, the weaker Putin’s regime becomes.

‘Those that want to avoid Russian state collapse (i.e. Xi) should be pushing Putin to end his war.’

Another prominent critic, Mikhail Khodorkovsky – Russia’s onetime richest man who became a leading exiled opposition figure after Putin jailed him for ten years – said he felt Putin’s judgement was clouded.

Mikhail Khordokovsky, who was jailed by Putin for 10 years, said the Russian president was detached from reality

A Russian Police officer guards the Red Square near the Kremlin as forces braced for an attack before the sensational retreat of Prigozhin’s forces

Machine gun outposts are hastily constructed on the outskirts of Moscow prior to Prigozhin’s shock statement

Many have speculated that COVID isolation has detached the strongman even further from reality, and left him deluded about reality.

Khodorkovsky said he was perhaps leaning too heavily on sycophants, rather than honest advisors, and seriously misjudged Prigozhin.

‘Recently, Putin has been making mistake after mistake, and Prigozhin could become for him a critical mistake,’ he said.

‘When you are in power for twenty years and everyone tells you what a genius you are, who knows what happens to your consciousness.’

Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, said that ‘Putin underestimated’ the threat posed by Prigozhin.

‘He thought he was totally dependent and loyal.’

People gathered to bid farewell to Prigozhin, with one man even reaching through his car window to shake the exiled Wagner leader’s hand

One fan of the Wagner chief even managed to snap a selfie with him, as the disgraced mercenary leader was forced out of Russia

Tanks were hauled out of the southern city of Rostov as Prigozhin’s forces retreated from Rostov

Crowds lined the streets and cheered as the private military company withdrew its troops from Rostov

Huge crowds gathered in Rostov-on-Don as Wagner-owned tanks rolled out of the city

Putin loyalists downplayed the threat, insisting that Prigozhin was never realistically going to take on the Kremlin.

Sergey Markov told CNN Prigozhin was ‘extremely aggressive’, but never a threat to Putin.

‘They support Prigozhin fighting against Ukrainian army but not against Vladimir Putin,’ said Markov, claiming Putin’s popularity was now at ‘about 80%.’

Markov said that it was ‘really good news’ that Prigozhin had ordered Wagner mercenary columns to turn back from an advance toward Moscow, adding that ‘a lot of Moscow are happy about this.’

But Ivo Daalder, the former U.S. ambassador to NATO, warned the conflict was far from settled.

‘Recall that Gorbachev survived a coup in ’91. But he was out of power 4 months later. The coup underscored his essential weakness.

‘Putin will likely survive, for now.

‘But the last 24 hours raise serious questions about his hold on power. Watch this space.’

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