Was Wagner mutiny a Russian ruse to shape the battlefield?

What could have The Kremlin achieved by orchestrating the Wagner action?


With Wagner Private Company fighters entering Belarus from the border town of Osipovichy, more than 80 km southeast of the capital Minsk, suspicions that the sudden ‘mutiny’ by Wagner was orchestrated by The Kremlin are gaining ground.

Media has reported that the Wagner fighters have entered the township in a 60-vehicle convoy including pickup trucks and buses.

The Wagner action of June 24 led to Kyiv deploying forces to Bakhmut and the latest movement will compel Ukraine to mobilize forces in its northern border bordering Belarus as the capital Kyiv is near the northern border.

Such military movements involve huge expenditures and extra effort besides befuddling the adversary as to what to expect.

Just a few hours after Wagner fighters had begun moving towards Moscow on June 24, before halting and turning around about 400 km away from the Russian capital, THE WEEK had reported that the move could be a ruse to confuse the enemy.

But then the mercenaries had already taken control of two key towns on the way—Voronezh and Rostov-on-Don—prompting President Vladimir Putin to describe the Wagner action as a “betrayal” and “back-stabbing”.

The ‘Maskirovka’ doctrine of the Russian military that uses deception as the main ploy to hide real intentions is a well-practised tactic of the Russian military. It involves distracting the adversary, hiding one’s actions and then spreading disinformation to confuse the opponent.

Russia’s ‘Maskirovka’ as a battle tactic can be said to have begun in 1380 when 50,000 Russian soldiers defeated 150,000 Mongolian warriors in the Battle of Kulikovo.

What could have The Kremlin achieved by orchestrating the Wagner action?

First, it could have compelled Ukrainian forces to mobilize in areas in the north and northeast where the Russians are deployed in good numbers. On the other hand, it could ease vulnerable Russian positions in the south where the Ukrainians had an advantage. The result was that the Russians were in a position to determine the battleground and choose where to fight.

As things stand now, the Ukrainian forces will have to stay deployed in the north whether Russia steps up its operations from the north or does nothing.

Second, the reported ‘coup’ has flushed out anti-Putin detractors to the open leading to a purge. Thirteen individuals including General Sergei Surovikin, Alexei Venediktov, former head of an independent radio station, and a host of top military officials had been detained as part of a purge of anti-Putin detractors.

Third, the June 24 action has resulted in throwing doubts in the minds of the Western agencies as to determining the veracity of the information that they had gathered.

Several actions had sparked suspicion that the Wagner action may have been a ruse.

First, the ease with which the Wagner Group took control of Rostov-on-Don and Voronezh, with no substantial resistance from the Russians.

Second, the lightning movement of the Wagner convoy on the wide open highway towards Moscow could have been very easily targeted by Russian fighter aircraft and artillery.

Third, the sheer audacity of just a few thousand fighters to believe that they could take on the might of the Russian army.

Fourth, the unprecedented reportage of the state-owned media of the happenings which is never the case in Russia where all news is filtered by the government.

The suspicions acquire considerable force due to the fact that, quite uncharacteristically, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has been let off very lightly by The Kremlin. 

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