The Unfolding Events in Russia: A Tale of Civil War and a Coup Attempt

**Title: Failed Mutiny Exposes Weaknesses in Putin’s Rule and Ideological Framing**

Less than 24 hours after the mutiny began, it was over. As the rebelling Wagner column bore down on Moscow, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko brokered a deal under which Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to drop criminal charges against the mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin and allow him to seek asylum in Belarus. The departing Wagner troops were given a heroes’ send-off by some residents of Rostov-on-Don – the southern Russian town they had taken control over without firing shot earlier in the day.

The Mutiny: Coup Attempt or a Failed Insurrection?

The events of June 24 had observers searching for the right term to describe what was going on: Was this a coup attempt, a mutiny, an insurrection? Did Prigozhin seriously think that he would be able to enter Moscow? Perhaps he genuinely believed that Putin would accede to his demand to fire Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov – two men that the Wagner group head has previously harshly criticized for their conduct of the war. More radically, Prigozhin may have hoped that he would receive support from elements in the Russian military.

Putin’s Impotence: Failing to Stop the Mutiny

Prigozhin’s abortive insurrection has punctured the “strongman” image of President Vladimir Putin, both for world leaders and for ordinary Russians. He was unable to do anything to stop Prigozhin’s rogue military unit as it seized Rostov-on-Don – where the Russian Southern Military Command was headquartered – and then sent a column of armored vehicles up the M4 highway towards Moscow. Putin was forced to make a televised address at 10:00 a.m. local time on June 24 describing the revolt as a “stab in the back” and calling for harsh punishment of the mutineers. But it was the intervention of Belarus President Lukashenko that brought an end to the mutiny, not any words or actions from Putin.

Nationalist Discontent and Vulnerability

Prigozhin’s words and actions have exposed the vulnerability of Putin’s grip on power, and the hollowness of his ideological framing of the war in Ukraine and Russia’s place in the world. Putin’s constant refrain is that any opposition to his rule – whether it be from the Kyiv government, or from protesters at home – is part of a Western plot to weaken Russia. It is hard to imagine that his propagandists will be able to argue that Prigozhin is also a tool of the West. Over the past 10 years, and especially since the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Putin has ruthlessly deployed the coercive apparatus of the state to crush any liberal opposition. At the same time, radical ultra-nationalists – not only Prigozhin but also the military bloggers and correspondents reporting from the war zone – have been given a relatively free hand.

Prigozhin’s Rise and Criticism

Prigozhin – a former convict who went on to provide catering for the Kremlin before founding the Wagner group – has seen his profile and popularity in Russia rise during the war in Ukraine. In May 2023 polling, he was cited among the top 10 trusted political figures. It is unclear why Putin was tolerating the nationalists, Prigozhin included, as they increasingly questioned Russia’s war performance. It may be because the Russian president is ideologically aligned with them, or saw them as useful in balancing the power of the generals. Certainly prior to the Wagner mutiny, there were growing winds of discontent among nationalists.

Putin’s Lame Duck Presidency?

Putin has no one to blame but himself for the crisis. Prigozhin’s Wagner group was created with his blessing and promoted by the Russian president. But as his prestige grew, so too did Prigozhin’s criticism of those around Putin. Starting in December 2022, he began openly challenging defense minister Shoigu. He avoided direct criticism of Putin, though in an expletive-laced tirade on May 9 – the day Russia commemorates the end of World War II – he complained about the lack of ammunition for Wagner fighters and talked about “a happy asshole Grandfather,” in what has been taken to be a clear reference to Putin. It remains a mystery why Putin did not move to get rid of Prigozhin before now. One of the many mysteries of Russian politics.


While Putin’s authority has been challenged, it is too early to label him a “lame duck” president. Putin has shown resilience in the face of challenges before. However, the failed mutiny has exposed significant flaws in Russia’s system of rule and the ideological framing of the war in Ukraine. It remains to be seen how Putin will address the lingering discontent among nationalists and whether further action will be taken against Prigozhin and his extensive business operations.

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