Wagner rebellion: Why next 24 hours critical for Putin

'Civil war has officially begun,' says the Wagner group

Russian army servicemen, and police officers guard the highway at the entrance to Moscow | AP Russian army servicemen, and police officers guard the highway at the entrance to Moscow | AP

The war has just got closer to the Kremlin. As the Wagner group announced on their Telegram Channel: “The civil war has officially begun’’—President Vladmir Putin labelled the mutiny ‘treason’—the question is how this will play out for Putin and for the country.

The Wagner group—an armed militia headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin which has been fighting together with Russian troops in Ukraine—seems to have made a bid for power in the past few hours. However, Prigozhin has claimed this is "not a military coup but a march for justice". News outlets quoting the Wagner chief claim that his forces have captured "all military facilities" in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

However, so far there seems to be no clarity on what is happening on the ground. Twitter updates suggest that Prigozhin is marching towards Moscow. The city is on high alert. Public events have been cancelled. Videos also show that the Wagner group occupied Rostov without much opposition. But nothing is ever certain or clear in Russia. On the ground, despite Twitter claiming collapse, it seems like a quiet Saturday for most Russians.

What is certain is that the next day or so will be critical—on whether President Putin is able to squash this mutiny and how fast. The next 24 hours will be critical. New Delhi will certainly be watching the situation closely.

However, everything is never as it seems in Russia. This 'mutiny' comes at a critical time for Putin himself, as well for Russia. The elections are due next year. It certainly does seem like an advantage Ukraine at the moment. So far, however, the evolving situation on the ground, as one Mark Hertling, a retired Former United States Army officer, claims, will not drastically alter the situation in Ukraine.

“But suggesting that it will radically affect the front lines in Ukraine fails to consider other factors. Russian mines and other obstacles are still in the ground. Russian troops are still in defensive positions and they likely don't know what's going on. Yes, Russian forces are moving, reinforcing holes left by Wagner, but it will take UAF time to determine the new weak spots,” he says.

Things are, however, far from normal. The RT channel has quoted former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as saying, “the most important thing for defeating the external and internal enemy who is hungry to tear our Motherland into shreds… is to unite around the president and supreme commander of the armed forces...Split and betrayal lead to the greatest tragedy, to a universal disaster."

It goes without saying that the mutiny or march for justice has been seized by Ukraine as the end of Putin. In the first statement after Wagner's announcement, President Zelenkskyy said: “Putin despises his people and throws hundreds of thousands into the war in order to eventually barricade himself in the Moscow region from those whom he himself armed.”

Meanwhile, for the moment, things are uncertain. Life in Moscow seems to be as usual. Public events have been cancelled but for the most part, there is no panic on the ground so far.

Things in St. Petersburgùwhich—home to the Wagner Center HQ—is too stable according to the RT. The government controlled news outlet has quoted St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov as saying, “lawful actions of law enforcement agents, including those in the Wagner Center building, have no impact on the ongoing activities in the city."

Meanwhile, rumours swirl around and conspiracy theories abound and things on the ground are changing rapidly. One thing, however, is certain that trouble has been brewing for some time. The question is whether it is a civil war, how this plays out in the next and whether the end of the beginning or just a new chapter? 

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