June 24, 2023 will go down in the history of Russia. However, it is not yet entirely clear when what day. What is certain is that a mercenary force, having taken Rostov-on-Don without resistance, began to march on Moscow. The goal was the capital, but what exactly they were supposed to achieve there is not yet known.
If there was a manual for a successful coup, they would have to take control of the Kremlin, the Duma, the Ministry of Defense, various television stations and parts of the center. It is not known whether this was her order.
Because after the mercenary squad, heavily armed and experiencing little resistance, had approached Moscow, the order was given to turn back. Back to the locations.
Putin feared Prigozhin’s advance so much that he accepted the loss of authority
The reason for this should be an agreement that Belarusian President Lukashenko had reached with Russian President Putin and the mercenary boss Prigozhin. The deal: To avoid bloodshed, Prigozhin withdraws his troops and in return receives immunity, as do his mercenaries.
Because in the morning Putin had described the march on Moscow as high treason, which threatened Prigozhin with arrest and years of imprisonment. Putin seems to have feared the further advance so much that he did not want to rely on his security organs and preferred to accept the additional loss of authority.
What was really negotiated is not known. First it was said that the dismissal of Defense Minister Shoigu and Chief of Staff Gerasimov had also been agreed. Putin’s spokesman Peskov denied this.
It is quite possible that this is true; It is quite possible that Putin just wants to be given a buffer in which to forget. It remains to be seen what will happen to Shoigu and Gerasimov to judge later. This also applies to other agreements.
Putin couldn’t erase one emotion
However, it is already clear that the March on Moscow anchored three facts in the public consciousness both in Russia and in other countries. Because before the march on Moscow, Prigozhin had dominated the information space and communicated a very different story about the war in Ukraine than Putin. That was also the actual break with the man who supported and used him for decades.
Prigozhin, in his drastic way, declared that the danger threatening Russia from Ukraine was smothered and a lie. There was no such danger, it never was. Russia has not been waging this war since 2014 because Ukraine is threatening people in the Donbass, but because corrupt officers are filling their pockets. Not “Nazis” in Ukraine, but corruption in Russia is the cause of the war.
These well-received speeches drastically changed the situation for Russia and Putin. With the march on Moscow they got a face: mercenaries who “heroically” (Peskov) captured Bakhmut could hardly be reinterpreted as criminals in the blink of an eye. So there must be something to what they called the March for Justice, which grew into an aborted coup d’état. Putin will not be able to erase this sentiment.
Putin did not get a tip from the West that he could have used for propaganda purposes
The first consequence is that Putin’s fairy tale of defending Russia against the West threatening Russia is tattered. The fact is: Russia’s security is not threatened from outside. Otherwise, wouldn’t now have been the right moment for Western intervention, when a mercenary army and the Russian armed forces were facing each other?
On the other hand, Europe and the USA unanimously declared that this was an internal matter for Russia. No intervention. Not even a comment. Putin didn’t get a corner that he could have used for propaganda purposes to rally the population behind him because an outside threat had to be averted.
That he didn’t make a speech to rally the population behind him – from Red Square, that everyone also knows: “The President is aware of the danger in Moscow at the moment” – is remarkable. On the other hand, he should have said that the security of his rule is being threatened by Russians, those who have been presented for months as the bravest combatants. The next time Putin states that Russia is being threatened by the West, many will think: The W stands for Wagner, not for the West.
The central question: why did Putin do nothing?
When the mercenary troops marched towards Moscow, there was no resistance. Violent non-state actors have been able to cross Russia for a day without being effectively stopped. Putin knew what to expect. And even if he didn’t know, Russian forces – especially the Air Force – should be able to attack a convoy from a standing position.
Why didn’t that happen? It is not plausible that an agreement was reached with Prigozhin early on and therefore there was no reaction. It is more plausible that there were two rulers in Russia at the time, in other words: the state’s monopoly on the use of force could not be effectively enforced – despite the available funds. This can happen again at any time. Hence the second experience: the state’s monopoly on the use of force is always endangered.
This is related to the third insight, because it was amazing who stood behind the president: MPs from his party, a few state officials, an administrator he had appointed in occupied Ukrainian territories. That was thin.
On the other hand, speculation immediately ran rampant that Putin, his prime minister and other high-ranking state officials had left Moscow in view of the approaching mercenary troops. There were denials, but no one showed up in Moscow to stop the speculation. The plans for a terrorist situation were implemented in order to take defensive measures, but these could not have stopped the Wagner mercenaries.
Call for Kadyrov – a disgrace to the core of the Russian security forces
When Kadyrov’s private army was called from Chechnya to defend the government, the Russian security forces were embarrassed to the core. Outside Moscow the situation was even more obvious, for Rostov-on-Don, the city captured by the Wagner mercenaries on the first platoon, did not resist. There the mercenaries took control of the headquarters of the Southern Military District (responsible for southern Russia, North Caucasus, occupied Crimea, and the fleet in the Black and Caspian Seas). Likewise the central places of the metropolis. All without resistance. Progozhin had the monopoly on the use of force. All of this makes it clear that state institutions are collapsing under pressure.
After Prigozhin’s tirades, Putin’s fairy tale of threatened Russia no longer has any basis. But he will probably stick to his fact-free claims.
Before, many knew that Putin is lying – now almost everyone knows it
Many knew before that he was lying, now (almost) everyone. Except for a few authority-loving, anti-American hardheads.
Russia’s state weakness became obvious. The state institutions were not up to the challenge and if the mercenaries had continued to move towards Moscow, this would have been openly seen. The state could no longer fulfill its function of guaranteeing security. The monopoly on the use of force was in doubt. This is the highest form of state weakness. The Russian leadership now sees itself confronted with this. Putin won’t be able to fix that anymore.