This morning, in a move that resulted from Russia’s failures in Ukraine, Wagner forces under mercenary leader Yevgeny V. Prigozhin seized the city of Rostov-on-Don without firing a shot and began advancing towards Moscow.
This represents a serious escalation of the long-simmering tensions between the Russian mercenary group and the official military authorities, but more importantly it finally puts to bed the lie that Putin is some kind of strategic mastermind. Prigozhin, with a few thousand men, was essentially able to defy the entire Russian government and move forward almost unopposed.
A few hours later, it appears that Act I of this drama concluded with Prigozhin announcing that his forces were “turning around our columns and returning to field camps according to plan.” This isn’t the end of this intra-Russian conflict, but merely an intermission. Reverberations from Prigozhin’s rebellion will continue to be felt for weeks in both Russia and on the battlefield in Ukraine.
Ultimately, the single greatest impact of this surprise turn of events is demonstrating to both Russian citizens and the world at large that the Emperor has no clothes. For all of Putin’s posturing, he presides over a Potemkin village whose power—both military and otherwise—has clearly been overstated.
Join RDI Chairman Garry Kasparov and RDI Executive Director Uriel Epshtein for a special episode to analyze what’s been going on and stay tuned as events continue to unfold.