Though Kyiv was strongly advised by Western allies “don’t rock the boat” and “don’t get drawn into internal matters or strike” inside Russia, the high internal tensions can turn into military advantages for Ukraine on the frontline. By launching his mutiny Wagner PMC boss Yevgeny Prigozhin’s opened the Pandora’s box.
The myth of the monolithic power vertical of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime has been shattered. Russian authorities have been bragging about their military might and national unity for dozens of years. After the mutiny there are at least three Russian military powers and all of them oppose each other.
The Russian regular army and law enforcement agencies support the Kremlin. Prigozhin’s private military machine can choose sides, as we have observed during the mutiny. And then there are the anti-Putin volunteers, such as the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Russian Freedom Legion, which are fighting on the side of Ukraine and have conducted special operations inside Russia.
Wagner showed that if a revolt is possible in Putin’s vertical, Ukraine may actively try to find help among others: potential allies may appear in the Russian army, intelligence, or even among the leadership. “This rebellion undermined Putin’s authority. It could not have happened without Russian special services. The opening and closing of the criminal case against Prigozhin, and the fact that he was allowed to leave the country, indicates that there are levers of pressure on Putin,” – a senior source in the Ukrainian Defense Ministry tells me on condition of anonymity. Ukrainian army and intelligence services can now use conflicts among the Russian military to help de-occupy territories.
“The Prigozhin rebellion disoriented the Russians, especially the political leadership – this is important for planning various operations and can help Ukraine in its counteroffensive,” – said Anna Kovalenko, former Deputy Head of the Presidential Office for Defense and former Advisor to the Minister of Defense of Ukraine. The Ukrainian counteroffensive indeed intensified and made some gains on the day of Prigozhin’s rebellion, June 24, particularly in the Bakhmut direction. Symbolically, Bakhmut had been captured by Wagner fighters back in May.
But this Ukrainian counteroffensive was a pre-planned operation, my sources in the Ukrainian armed forces tell. Wagner mercenaries used to be the most aggressive of Russian fighting forces.
After capturing Bakhmut they were withdrawn to restore their combat capability. The regular Russian army took their positions and Prigozhin’s private troops no longer had much influence on the fighting.
Most Russian soldiers on the frontline were in an information vacuum. From intercepts, Ukrainian intelligence has seen that the Russian soldiers began to take an interest in the events in Russia only closer to the evening of the rebellion. However, as soon as confusion started setting in amonth them, the mutiny was over.
During the rebellion Prygozhin’s fighters shot down a number of Russian helicopters and an Il-22M airplane, an airborne command post used to coordinate and control troops. “The enemy has lost equipment and trained pilots. This is always a plus, especially given Russia’s dominance in the sky,” – said Kovalenko. British MoD added that “these special mission aircraft have played a key role in orchestrating Russian forces in their war against Ukraine.” However the most important advantage Ukraine has gained from Prigozhin’s rebellion is not military, but political. When Russia is undermined by domestic problems and Putin’s vertical begins to crack, it diverts focus and energy from the war in Ukraine and foreign affairs. The instability of Putin’s regime raises the question of whether Russia can continue fighting for long.