I don’t know whether the leader of Russia’s mercenary forces seriously planned a coup attempt in Moscow.

I don’t know why Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, suddenly shifted gears, dropped the planned assault, cut a deal that included the dropping of charges against him, and agreed to flee the country.

I don’t know why Vladimir Putin, having accused his onetime ally of treason and threatened to crush the rebellion, meekly made the compromise. 

I don’t know whether the weekend’s tumultuous events leave Putin in a badly weakened state, though it certainly undermined his authority. 


I don’t know if this shaky truce will hold or Prigozhin will find a way to continue it, his for-hire troops having been cheered by Russian civilians after capturing a key military base south of Moscow.

And neither, I submit, does anyone else.

With a hat tip to those who study the region for a living–and are also putting caveats in their copy – the Twitterized rush to sound knowledgeable about the short-lived revolt is rather amusing. The whole thing is shrouded in the fog of war.

You don’t have to be a geopolitical expert to grasp that Putin, who dropped out of sight on Saturday along with Prigozhin, looks like the man who blinked. Was he afraid that Prigozhin, whom he accused of treason, had the military means to defeat him, or just wanted to avoid mass bloodshed?

Or it may simply have been a power struggle with the man once known as “Putin’s chef,” because of his state catering contracts. “Regarding the betrayal of the motherland, the president is deeply mistaken,” Prighozin said.

As the Morning Dispatch notes, Prighozin declared on Friday that “the war wasn’t needed to return Russian citizens to our bosom, nor to demilitarize or de-Nazify Ukraine. The war was needed so that a bunch of animals could simply exult in glory.” 

The Wagner leader, in a video message yesterday, said the revolt began after Moscow bombed 30 of his troops. He also said his private military units did not want to sign contracts to put them under the direct control of the Defense Ministry before this Saturday, as the Kremlin had demanded. Prigozhin claimed he was not trying to topple the government.

President Biden said yesterday there is no way to know definitively where this is headed, but that the west was not to blame.

In a brief and low-key video late yesterday, Putin praised the Wagner Group, saying that “by turning back they avoided further bloodshed.” He said that by maintaining their oath of the country, they had “saved” Russia from those who – he mentioned neo-Nazis in Ukraine – “wanted Russians to kill each other.”

And yet the Russian strongman said he would go after those who organized the “mutiny,” saying “any kind of blackmail is doomed to failure.”

Finally, Putin urged every member of the Wagner group to contact the Defense Ministry – his original demand – “or go back to their homes.” So he’s still worried about the mercenary army and perhaps is trying to separate its members from Prigozhin.

As the Washington Post points out: “Intentionally or not, Prigozhin showed that Russia is not only at war with Ukraine but on many levels is also at war with itself. Thousands have left the country because they disagreed with the invasion or fled for fear of being conscripted to fight. Others are in jail, or living in exile, because they voiced opposition to the war, or to Putin.”

That may be the deepest dilemma of all. If support for Putin’s war is substantially slipping, could he – and his brutal, unprovoked assault on Ukraine – be in jeopardy?


The New York Times says the whole misadventure “raised uncomfortable questions about the Russian president’s future: What did his failure to prevent the revolt mean for their security — and his staying power?”

Moscow newspaper editor Konstantin Remchukov told the paper the idea that “Putin is in power and provides stability and guarantees security — it suffered a fiasco on the 24th. If I was sure a month ago that Putin would run unconditionally because it was his right, now I see that the elites can no longer feel unconditionally secure.”

Foreign policy columnist David Ignatius takes a 30,000-foot view: “This day will be remembered as part of the unraveling of Russia as a great power — which will be Putin’s true legacy.”

The liberal Intercept says Prigozhin lost his nerve: “Now the odds are good that Putin will have his rival murdered. The Russian leader has had opponents thrown out of windows for far less… But Putin is a dead man walking, too, because his tenuous hold on power has now been exposed to the world.”

But enough of trying to interpret what we’ve long branded Kremlinology. How will this affect the illicit war on Ukraine?


It has to be a boost to Volodomyr Zelenskyy’s troops because Wagner’s well-trained forces may now be taken off the battlefield. Wagner’s troops, reinforced by Russian regulars, have been fighting for Bakhmut, with control of the villages swinging back and forth, and the chaos in Russian politics can only help Ukraine’s counteroffensive. The importance of that eastern region is more psychological than strategic. 


At a minimum, the crazy coup attempt may increase pressure on Putin to find a way out of the ugly war he brought on himself.