The Wagner group only stops its march on Moscow after a pact that reveals Putin’s extreme weakness

If there was one factor that sustained the high popularity that Vladimir Putin maintained in the polls – around 80% approval a few months ago, no matter how much in a regime like yours these polls have to be taken with great caution – it is his profile as a strong man, of great authority who controls the country to the last meter and is capable of imposing order.

And that was the role that Putin himself assumed this Saturday when he appeared in a public speech in the early hours of the peculiar riot that has led the owner of the Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin. An intervention in which there was no room for conciliation:

“Our actions to protect the homeland from this threat will be firm. All those who consciously took the path of treason, those who prepared the armed rebellion and took the path of blackmail and terrorist methods, will receive an inescapable punishmentThey will answer before the law and before the people.

Instead of that, the result of the coup, the riot or whatever we want to call what Wagner’s mercenaries staged has been very different and there will be no “unavoidable punishment” for anyone: the Kremlin itself has announced that Yevgeny Prigozhin himself will go to Belarus and that none of Wagner’s mercenaries will be prosecuted, many of whom are ex-convicts recruited from Russian prisons with the promise of freedom in exchange for fight in Ukraine.

The pact, of which the details are not known, has been possible through the mediation of the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashneko –of which he himself has boasted–, and has meant the direct and personal involvement of Putin himself, who has “closed the criminal case that had been opened against” Prigozhin and has even pledged his word as a guarantee: “If you ask me which is the guarantee that Prigozhin will be able to leave for Belarus, that’s the word of the president“Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov said in an appearance this Saturday.

Putin’s extreme weakness

That personal agreement in which the president of russia has negotiated with a warlord that in reality he only has 25,000 men under his command is one of the keys to the extreme feeling of weakness that Putin has conveyed in this crisis, going on in a few hours from promising exemplary punishments to give your word to a traitoras he himself defined the leader of Wagner.

But there is another aspect that is perhaps even more striking and revealing: Wagner’s column of mercenaries has stopped of its own free will 200 kilometers from Moscow Without at any time it seemed that the Russian army had the capacity to stop this advance.

On the way, and despite the information confusion that reigned throughout Saturday, one thing remains clear: with a few soldiers and almost without firing a shot Prigozhin seized military control of Rostov-on-Dona city of more than a million inhabitants, the tenth most populous in the country.

It also seems, although this is not entirely clear, that there was a confrontation between one of the columns of the Wagner group and some army helicopters, with the result of three of these planes shot down.

In any case, the matter has been little less than a new ridicule of a Russian army already highly questioned after the general failure that the invasion of Ukraine has meant, a war in which, precisely, the members of the Wagner group have been one of the few who have maintained a certain level of performance and have achieved –even if it has been at a brutal cost and in a rather pyrrhic way– Russia’s only victory in over a year: the taking of Bakhmut or, rather, of the ruins of Bakhmut.

Was there only Prigozhin?

The other question that remains to be revealed is whether Prigozhin has acted completely alone, which seems to be the image he wanted to give, or if he did it in tune with one of the political-economic families that populate the Kremlin who intended, precisely, to weaken Putin. Something that perhaps most likely will never be known but, if it were part of a more complex plan, one would say that it has been a complete success.

The crisis has been resolved very quickly and it is too soon to say to what extent it has damaged Putin’s prestige and, above all, has weakened his political position, which until recently seemed absolutely immovable, and a power that would have been said to be absolute, but that from now on we know that it depends on the whim of any general or even a warlord.

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