Updated Jun 26, 2023, 8:58pm EDT

Expert Views: Can Putin survive Prigozhin’s rebellion?

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a televised address in Moscow, Russia, June 24, 2023. Sputnik/Gavriil Grigorov/Kremlin via REUTERS
Sputnik/Gavriil Grigorov/Kremlin via REUTERS

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The News

A criminal investigation into Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin is still underway, despite reports that the case would be dropped following his mercenary group’s short-lived uprising, Russian media reported Monday. The about face came after an apparent deal between him and Russian President Vladimir Putin ended the weekend’s standoff.

We’ve curated insightful analysis from Russia experts on what this means for Putin and the war in Ukraine.

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  • In an interview with Foreign Affairs, Russia historian Stephen Kotkin notes that Putin may have unwittingly launched a stress-test of his own regime. Kotkin compared the incident to the run on Silicon Valley Bank, saying that issues in the Russian army could metastasize as stories were shared on Telegram, cumulatively undermining Putin’s grip on power.
  • Well-connected Russians are viewing the fallout of Prigozhin’s uprising as damaging to Putin’s strongman image. One Kremlin insider who spoke to the Financial Times’ Max Seddon called the situation a “huge humiliation for Putin,” while Alexei Venediktov, former editor of the Ekho Moskvy radio station, said: “It turns out you can start a revolt against the president, and be forgiven. That means the president isn’t that strong.” However, Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of R.Politik, wrote in Politico that Putin himself views his image as a secondary issue: If you set optics aside, he resolved the situation and avoided the far worse scenario of a successful coup.
  • In a Telegram post, Sergei Markov, a Moscow-based political analyst and former adviser to Putin, wrote that there’s always a “fundamental reason” behind an attempted coup. “If the reasons remain, a putsch will happen again. And it could be successful.”
  • Prigozhin’s uprising has effectively removed Russia’s “single most effective fighting force” — Wagner group mercenaries — off the frontlines, Elliot Ackerman writes in The Atlantic, leaving the country to rely entirely on its weakened military and conscripts to continue the war. The Putin vs. Prigozhin drama also strengthens Ukraine’s case for quicker accession to NATO. Petro Burkovskyi argues in the Kyiv Independent that Russia has now entered a period of instability and unpredictability, reminiscent of the 1990s when it was on the brink of civil war, pushing the West into enlarging NATO to bring stability to Central Europe.