Even if the mutiny of the Wagner mercenaries ended abruptly and their boss Prigozchin is now dead: the events have left their mark. What about Putin’s authority? Is chaos looming in a country with ABC weapons?
Thousands of mercenaries from the Wagner group met no major resistance when they marched towards Moscow a good two months ago. Her boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has died in the meantime, broke off the coup and the struggle for power in the Kremlin did not materialize. But remember: At the time, President Vladimir Putin seemed weak, speaking first of “negotiations” and then of “treason”; all within a few hours.
After the uprising was called off, a debate about Russia’s stability began, for example in the Baltic States. Jānis Sārts, director at NATO’s Strategic Communications Competence Center in Riga, believes the march on Moscow shook power in the Kremlin. Mārtiņš Vargulis, deputy head of the Latvian Institute for Foreign Policy, echoed the same sentiments. Putin’s power is threatened by forces within Russia, he explains.
Meanwhile, inflation in Russia continues to rise, the value of the ruble against the dollar and the euro is falling. Moscow’s pro-government propaganda sheet Izvestia complains that there are queues at gas stations in the regions; Mind you, the world’s third largest oil producer. The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is also faltering. In the last few weeks, it’s primarily the Ukrainians who have reported smaller gains in territory.
So is Putin’s throne in the Kremlin shaking?
Stefan Meister from the “German Council on Foreign Relations” (DGAP) told Deutsche Welle that this cannot be assumed at all at the moment. With repression and propaganda, Putin’s regime has managed to get a large part of the population behind it. Western sanctions would be partially circumvented. Many companies, including those from the West, are still active in Russia. Stefan Meister observes a loss of prosperity among the Russian population. But there can be no question of the country falling apart or Putin being weak, he says. If Putin could one day be challenged at all, it would be by someone from the security apparatus, says the Russia expert. But at the moment Putin is “firmly in the saddle”. He has enough resources to continue his war against Ukraine for another two or three years.
Tobias Fella, research associate at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (IFSH), does not believe that there is currently a threat of “great instability in Russia”. A problem for the Kremlin could arise if the government had to mobilize more troops or if the economic situation deteriorated dramatically. After the Ukrainians’ recent gains in territory at the front, Russia would “prove to be militarily capable of learning.”
Western experts are speculating as to whether the Kremlin itself is not spreading the narrative that chaos is looming in Russia. The aim of this narrative would be to weaken Western support for Ukraine, because the West can tolerate Ukraine having to cede land, but not rogue Russian nuclear missiles.
Stefan Meister does not believe in such theories. In fact, according to the expert, Putin’s system is demonstrating strength – even with Prigozhin’s death. He believes that it is neither the oligarchs, nor society, nor the military, nor the people who surround and depend on Putin who can question his power. This could possibly be different one day with the secret services or the security apparatus. Minor military defeats in Ukraine did not endanger Putin’s power. It might only be different if, for example, Ukraine succeeded in recapturing Crimea and all areas occupied by Russia.