Thu Jun 13, 2024
June 13, 2024

Wagner mercenaries’ mutiny: ‘Putin’s chef’ exposed his employer’s vulnerability

June 24 will go down in history as the day Putin felt, for the first time in 24 years, that his grip on the country was wavering and he could fall from power.

By SI of the IWL

What will happen in the near future with that power? For us, it is difficult to foresee with any certainty. But it is clear that his regime has cracks in it from top to bottom, caused by the strategic defeat it has been suffering in the invasion, occupation, and protracted war in Ukraine. This is due, fundamentally, to the fact that the Russian military machine’s genocidal aggression was and continues to be resisted by the heroic Ukrainian armed forces, which is composed overwhelmingly of workers and laborers from the city and the countryside.

Who is Prigozhin and what is the Wagner WPC?

Prigozhin is an ex-convict for robbery, who in the 1990s “restarted” his life in freedom by selling hotdogs and then setting up restaurants in St. Petersburg. Putin encouraged his culinary talents and brought “illustrious” foreign visitors to his restaurant. What is interesting is to see how Putin’s regime, centered around the FSB (ex-KGB) institution, was able to catapult Prigozhin by way of relations with the state apparatus into becoming the official caterer for the Kremlin and the food supplier for all the armed forces of the Russian Federation. And from there he was able to build the foundation of a real financial and media empire, where the Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner is only one of the companies of the group controlled by the oligarch Prigozhin, who until at least the beginning of the war was part of Putin’s inner circle.

PMC Wagner has for years been hiring mercenaries who have intervened and continue to act in various military conflicts on several continents including Syria, Mali, Sudan, Donbas, and Ukraine since 2014. Among its recruits are numerous former officers of all arms of the Russian Federation and other countries, who are involved in the counter-revolutionary actions of the Putin regime. Despite the method of civil war used to defeat the masses, looting and robbery for their bosses continues.

The State and the monopoly of violence

The establishment of private military companies is not unique to Russia and the Putin-FSB regime. In other military powers these “companies” also operate. The best known case is that of Blackwater, who was subcontracted by US imperialism to act in Afghanistan and Iraq with thousands of soldiers. Accused of torture and assassinations, it has since changed its name but continues to operate.

In the case of Putin’s Russia and its multiple counter-revolutionary expeditions, these formations have proliferated to the extreme. Before the Ukrainian war, each oligarchic group boasted its private armed forces with thousands of troops. The Wagner Group, which is the largest, reached 50,000, but it is not the only one; there is also the “Potok,” financed by Gazprom, and the “Patriot,” which belongs to none other than Minister of Defense Shoigu who signs the “contracts” with the PMCs.

However, the confrontation between these organizations is the result – no less – of the determined resistance of the Ukrainian masses, which has paralyzed Putin’s military conquests by changing the balance of forces on the ground. The morale of the resistance contrasts with the demoralization of the Russian armed forces and their outsourced troop of murderers, since it has failed to convince the soldiers of the rightness of their war against an entire people.

A clash between military companies for the spoils of war

For many months we have seen this conflict escalate, which has become the center of the crisis and the mutiny of the Wagner PMC troops. Prigozhin, from Bakhmut, denounced that he was not being sent ammunition, and in front of a pile of corpses he accused Minister Shoigu and the head of the army, Gerasimov, of being responsible for these deaths due to their clumsy management of the war. His insults grew, and without mentioning Putin directly, he insinuated that from the Kremlin the war was under the command of an “angry grandfather.”

Advance of Wagner troops towards Moscow / Photo: Reuters

In that framework, he managed to appear as the one who took the city of Bakhmut, thus forcing Putin to acknowledge Wagner in that respect. Emboldened by this correlation of forces, in recent weeks Prigozhin went so far as to question the fundamental arguments on which the invasion was based before the massive audience he has in Russia, denying that the Zelensky government or NATO itself were preparing an aggression.

The backdrop of the conflict between Prigozhin and the Russian Armed Forces high command lay in Wagner’s obligation to sign a “contract” with the Ministry of Defense to continue its looting operations. This contract would end its autonomy in the field, forcing it to sign agreements with local governments and ensuring its complete submission to the Armed Forces chain of command.

Prigozhin understands this as a decision of the political and military power leadership to take him out of the game. That is, to dissolve his multi-billion dollar business with Wagner. A few weeks ago it was decreed that as of July 1, all military service contracts will pass under the control of Shoigu, the Minister of Defense (who also has his own PMC). It is obvious that this was the trigger for the preparation of the abandonment of the camps in Ukraine and the march “For Justice” to Moscow.

The alleged “attack” on the Wagner camp

Prigozhin denounced with rather confusing videos that the artillery of the Russian regular army forces had hit his rearguard causing casualties and destruction. From there he started the march that began by taking the airfield and the city of Rostov, where the Southern command of the Russian Federation army operates and where Shoigu was visiting. When Prigozhin arrived there, Shoigu had already left. Faced with this, Prigozhin met with the military chiefs of the Southern District and demanded that Gerasimov and Shoigu come and talk to him. Faced with no response, he left Rostov blockaded and headed north where he took control of Voronezh. From there he continued his march “For Justice” to Moscow, stationing first at Lipetzk and later in the Tula region and stopping just over 200 km from Moscow.

“What was the war for? The war needed Shoigu to receive a star for heroism… The oligarchic clan ruling Russia needed the war,” he said. Directly contradicting Putin’s claims that Moscow has defended itself from Kiev’s counterattack, Prigozhin has also accused the Russian military leadership of lying to the public about the extent of its losses and setbacks in Ukraine. “The Russian army is retreating in all directions and shedding a lot of blood… What they tell us is the deepest deception.”

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, a Putin stooge, has claimed credit for the mediation and assured in a statement that an “absolutely profitable and acceptable” agreement was reached for the Wagner and that he has been given “security guarantees” without specifying which ones. Prigozhin’s move was risky in the extreme since it relied on the breakdown of the General Staff’s chain of command.

On Friday night and Saturday during the day, Prigozhin crossed his particular Rubicon cornered by the spiral of his quarrel with Shoigu. He launched his mutiny. President Putin, who until Saturday had allowed Prigozhin’s slips and his quarrels with his defense minister, charged against the mercenary chief, whom he accused of treason, and of “stabbing the Russian people in the back.” And he promised to crush him: “Our reaction will be forceful,” he said in a message to the nation.

In a speech where he made clear his fury at what he considered a personal betrayal by Prigozhin – who until now had remained loyal to the head of the Kremlin and had left him out of his attacks against Shoigu, the Moscow elites and the “corrupt bureaucrats” – Putin left no room for doubt. Without mentioning Prigozhin’s name, though he did mention Wagner, in the purest Kremlin style as it is used against its enemies, the Russian leader compared Saturday’s uprising to the 1917 revolution that destroyed the Russian Empire, “when the country was fighting World War I but was robbed of victory,” he said. “We will not allow this to be repeated. We will defend our people and our state against all threats, including internal treachery. Unbridled ambition and personal interests have led to the betrayal of our country and our people,” Putin said in a five-minute speech recorded and broadcast Saturday morning on state channels.

Finally, on Saturday Prigozhin doubled down and cried out in an audio message broadcast on his Telegram channels that Putin is “deeply mistaken” and that the Wagner men are not traitors, but rather true patriots of Russia. “No one will surrender at the request of the president, the FSB, or anyone else. We do not want the country to live in deceit, corruption, and bureaucracy,” Prigozhin said hours before announcing the withdrawal, whipping up rhetoric against the regular army elites, whom he has accused of sending ill-prepared men to the Ukrainian “meat grinder” while they enriched themselves.

An end that may be the beginning

The mutiny of the Wagner mercenaries comes in the midst of and due to the failure of the Russian invasion to defeat the Ukrainian resistance 16 months after the beginning of the invasion. The Wagner group was incorporated into the Russian war effort after the defeat of the Russian troops around Kiev, in order to reverse the situation of defeat and military impasse. Armed to the teeth and counting on 50,000 mercenaries (a large part of them recruited from Russian prisons), the Wagner group took eight months to totally destroy and take the city of Bakhmut, with enormous human losses estimated at 20,000 mercenaries. Throughout the battle of Bakhmut, the Ukrainian resistance forced Prigozhin to question the command of the war and threaten to withdraw from Bakhmut.

The setbacks in the military field raised the need for centralization of the Russian forces to face the Ukrainian resistance, including the incorporation of the mercenary groups into the regular troops. Prigozhin did not accept centralization, and instead prepared the mutiny and the seizure of Rostov-on-Don, headquarters of the southern command, and the march “for justice” towards Moscow with the aim of negotiating his contracts with the Kremlin. In addition, he sought to provoke a change in the Russian military command. This mutiny, at the very least, counted on the complacency of part of the military hierarchy. After 36 hours, the mutiny was demobilized following a secret agreement between Prigozhin and Belarusian dictator Lukashenko. While the mutiny represented the breakdown of command of Russian forces, the secret negotiation exposed Putin weakness, as he had promised to crush the mutineers.

The mutiny exposed the difficulties of the Russian military effort and opened a major crisis in the country’s political regime with the weakening of Putin and the military command. Military failures have historically opened crises in political regimes, and have even led to the fall of rulers. This was the case in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, in the First World War, in the Afghan War, and in the First Chechen war. Military failure in Ukraine may seal the future of Putin and the FSB-oligarchy regime.

The situation of the Ukrainian counteroffensive

The Ukrainian counteroffensive, launched on June 5, is still at its initial stage of identifying flanks in the Russian defense line, consisting of trenches and minefields. This was preceded by a series of Ukrainian operations on Russian territory, most notably in the Belgorod region where they worked to undermine the confidence of Russian troops and their supply lines. So far, Ukrainian forces recaptured eight villages in the Zaporizhzhia region and are besieging Bakhmut in the province of Donetsk. However, Ukrainian forces do not have enough airpower and do not have any modern combat fighters.

Russian forces have been weakened, and there have been huge losses of troops and they have also had difficulties in rebuilding weapon stocks and ammunition. As a result, they lack the conditions to promote military offensives. Therefore, they are on the defensive, entrenched, but their command remains ready to promote the destruction of the Ukrainian infrastructure and to provoke the flight of the population. They regularly shell civilian targets in major Ukrainian cities. On June 6, Russian forces exploded the New Kakhovka dam from the inside, causing violent flooding downstream and emptying of the giant dam upstream, which affected the water supply for agriculture and cities and has impacted the environment. In addition, the Russian occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant puts the entire Ukrainian and even the European population hostage to the invaders.

NATO hypocrisy

NATO conducted the largest air military exercise in its history by gathering 250 F-16 fighter jets in Europe from June 13 to 23. The defense ministers of NATO countries, which meet on June 15-16 in Brussels, decided not to deliver modern F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, a decision that may be reviewed in the future.

This decision is consistent with the strategy of the United States and the European Union to weaken but not overthrow Putin and his regime. The crisis with the Wagner mercenaries reinforced the need to keep Putin in place, and thus prevent ultra-warlike leaders or mercenary adventurers from assuming power in Russia.

On June 21-22 in London, the imperialist powers promoted a “Conference for the Reconstruction of Ukraine,” with the aim of preparing from now on the control of the economy and the wealth of Ukraine by the big Western corporations, a policy with which Zelensky’s government is in tune. An example of this was the decision of the Ukrainian government to prohibit the population from drilling water wells in Kryvyi Rih, whose neighborhoods suffer from a lack of water due to the explosion of the New Kakhovka dam. Zelensky wants to impose the privatization of water through the monopoly of wells.

All support for the Ukrainian workers’ resistance

The sufferings imposed on the Ukrainian population are inestimable, but they have not reached the point of reversing the broad support for the war effort to expel the Russian forces. Millions of working men and women are participating in the war effort, whether on the front lines or in the rear, preventing the Russian conquest. And they are doing this despite the neo-liberal policies of the Zelensky government, which has imposed privations on the population. Towards this workers’ resistance, we must direct international workers’ solidarity, through campaigns like the Workers’ Aid to Ukraine, which recently sent its third convoy. As for the Russian masses, they fear not a civil war but the coming to power of a sadist who kills people with a hammer.

We renew our CALL TO THE WORKING CLASS AND THE RUSSIAN PEOPLE to organize and unite against the war, against the mafia oligarchs, and to end Putin’s dictatorship.

– Weapons for the Ukrainian resistance!

– Support for anti-war actions in Russia! Freedom for political prisoners held in Putin’s jails!

– Peace without annexations! For the expulsion of Russian troops from all Ukrainian territory, including the Donbas and Crimea!

– For a workers’ reconstruction of Ukraine! For the socialization of water and all basic goods!

– For an independent Ukraine! For a workers’ and women workers’ government!

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