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Putin’s power ‘ebbing away’ as Russian president disappears after Wagner rebellion


An attempted uprising by mercenaries has revealed cracks in Vladimir Putin’s authority, according to the US secretary of state. Anthony Blinken said the revolt was a “direct challenge of Putin’s authority”.

The mutiny by the Wagner Group, which saw its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin order his troops to march on Moscow, left the Russian president hiding from public view on Sunday after being forced into an amnesty deal.

Though the astonishing revolt was short-lived – with the fighters withdrawing under the agreement that saw Mr Prigozhin exiled to Belarus – it has raised questions about Mr Putin’s grip on power.

The Russian president has not commented publicly since the deal was struck to de-escalate one of the biggest challenges since he rose to power more than two decades ago. He said he was giving top priority to the conflict in Ukraine in excerpts from an interview aired by state television on Sunday, but it appeared to have been recorded before the rebellion.

Vladimir Putin addresses the nation on Saturday

(Sputnik)

Speaking on Sunday, US secretary of state Anthony Blinken said the revolt was a “direct challenge of Putin’s authority”. Mr Blinken said the turmoil has weakened Mr Putin in ways that could aid Ukraine’s counteroffensive.

Mr Blinken told US media: “We’ve seen more cracks emerge in the Russian facade. It is too soon to tell exactly where they go… but certainly, we have all sorts of new questions that Putin is going to have to address in the weeks and months ahead.”

The Wagner Group’s forces were just 195km (120 miles) from Moscow before the rebellion was called off to avoid shedding Russian blood. Mr Prigozhin had said his “march” on Moscow was intended to remove corrupt and incompetent Russian commanders he blames for botching the war in Ukraine.

Mr Prigozhin has for months accused Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu and the chief of the general staff, Valery Gerasimov, of incompetence and of withholding ammunition from his fighters as they battled to take Bakhmut in Ukraine.

This month, Mr Prigozhin defied orders to place his troops under defence ministry command. He launched the rebellion on Friday after alleging the military had killed some of his men in an airstrike – a claim denied by the defence ministry.

Mr Prigozhin, 62, was seen leaving the district military headquarters in Rostov, hundreds of miles south of Moscow, late on Saturday. His whereabouts on Sunday were not known.

Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin leaves Rostov

(Reuters)

The deal brokered by Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko also means Wagner fighters who joined the “march for justice” will face no action.

In an earlier televised address on Saturday, Mr Putin said the rebellion put Russia‘s very existence under threat.

“We are fighting for the lives and security of our people, for our sovereignty and independence, for the right to remain Russia, a state with a thousand-year history,” Mr Putin said, vowing punishment for those behind “an armed insurrection”.

In his daily address on Sunday, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said Mr Putin is “obviously very afraid” and is “probably hiding”, while his defence minister Oleksii Reznikov said the 36-hour mutiny shows Russian authorities are “weak”.

Mr Reznikov said: “Had a phone conversation with my friend and colleague secretary of defence Lloyd J Austin III.

“We talked about recent events in Russia. We agree that the Russian authorities are weak and that withdrawing Russian troops from Ukraine is the best choice for the Kremlin. Russia would be better served to address its own issues.”

He added: “We also discussed the #UAarmy‘s counteroffensive and the next steps in strengthening our defence forces. Things are moving in the right direction. Ukraine will win.”

Meanwhile, the Institute for the Study of War said Russia struggled to respond clearly and coherently to the threat from the Wagner Group. It said the incident has highlighted “internal security weaknesses likely due to surprise and the impact of heavy losses in Ukraine”.

Commons defence committee chair Tobias Ellwood told the i newspaper: “Putin’s days are clearly numbered, he might survive the initial wound for a period of time but as Russian history shows, often it triggers a series of subsequent events that lead to the leader’s downfall.

“Power is ebbing away. The Wagner Group may be neutered, Prighozin exiled, but Putin is definitely weaker and the hawks are now circling.”


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