21 minutes 18 seconds
00:00:00 - 00:00:41
We start with the breaking news that the head of the Wagner mercenary group has called off an armed uprising in Russia. Yevgeny Prigozhin had directed his forces along a major highway towards Moscow, saying he wanted to oust Russia's military leadership. But in a post on the messaging service Telegram, Prygozhin said that his Wagner troops are pulling back to avoid spilling Russian blood. The city of Rostov-on-Don, near the Russian border with Ukraine, went through a turbulent day. Wagner's forces arrived there early on Saturday, securing control of key military positions.
00:00:42 - 00:01:09
But after less than 24 hours, they could soon be leaving. Joining me now is DW's Russia analyst Konstantin Egert who joins us from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. Konstantin, great to see you. It has been a dramatic day to say the least and we're also now hearing developments with regards to Prigozhin. Can you bring us up to speed?
00:01:11 - 00:02:47
Indeed Pablo it's an amazing day I've seen 1991 anti-garbage of coup in Moscow I've seen 1993 standoff between the Yeltsin and Parliament and I never thought I'll see something like that for a third time in my life. So it is indeed a dramatic day, which will, I'm absolutely certain, impact the development of political developments in Russia and will touch directly upon Russian aggression against Ukraine. But essentially what we've seen in the last few moments is actually statements from the Kremlin that all the, all Wagner troops that Vladimir Putin said only this morning committed treason, together with their chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, being actually pardoned. And Prigozhin has promised not only to reverse his march on Moscow, but he promised allegedly to retreat to neighboring Belarus, which of course is a Russian ally and pretty much dependent on Putin, but still theoretically it is another country. And this deal was allegedly brokered by the Belarus dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, And he seems to be a key figure now in this sequence of events which nearly led to a group of mercenaries essentially storming Moscow and trying to dislodge Putin's government.
00:02:48 - 00:03:06
Now, Konstantin, a lot has happened. I'm even trying to come to sort of put it into words myself. What concessions do you think Yevgeny Prigozhin has received in order to change his mind. And now you're saying that he's going to be going to Belarus.
00:03:09 - 00:03:40
Look, no 1 knows what concessions he received. Well, in Russia, which is in Putin's system, which is totally corrupt, I would have said money, but I think Prigozhin wants more than money. He's now a political figure, there's no doubt about that. I suspected his immunity from prosecution for him and for his troops, which is very important, which essentially makes him a man who keeps his promises no matter what. An honorable man, to use the godfather sort of term.
00:03:41 - 00:04:10
And I think that on the other hand, We can guess, only guess, what went wrong for Prigorshin. I suspect that maybe it's 1 of the versions that's being floated now, but it seems to be quite convincing. His march on Moscow was predicated on someone supporting him from inside the regime, someone helping him. And this someone did not materialize, did not help him for some reason. And that's why he had to stop.
00:04:10 - 00:04:43
Because frankly speaking, as a fourth-generation Moscovite, I can tell you, with the 15, 000, even crack troops, really, really well-trained combat veterans that Prigozhin allegedly had in Moscow, it will be extremely difficult, if not completely impossible, to keep the Russian capital under control. It's just too vast. It's anything between 15 and 20 million people at least. So I suppose that something went wrong for Prigozhin and he had to accept this deal.
00:04:44 - 00:04:51
Now, Is this a victory for Vladimir Putin or has his power been weakened?
00:04:53 - 00:05:24
Pablo, 100%, my answer will be his power has been weakened. Moreover, I will venture to say that Putin's regime as we knew it until Saturday is over. This is a much weakened regime. This is a regime that essentially pardons mutiny. This is a regime that has to negotiate with criminals with the help of, at least notionally, neighboring head of state.
00:05:24 - 00:06:02
And I think that this leaves Putin weakened, first and foremost of all, in the eyes of the vast Russian bureaucracy on which he relies to keep control of the country. All these hundreds of thousands, not million, FSB officers, police chiefs, governors, heads of state corporations watching this in complete amazement and saying, look, this is not the Putin we knew. Something is wrong. We don't understand what is wrong, but this is definitely not the system we subscribe to and this will have political repercussions. I have no doubt about that.
00:06:03 - 00:06:10
Konstantin, you keep an eye on the Russian media. What's being said in the Russian media?
00:06:11 - 00:06:34
Well it depends on the Russian media. The state-controlled media has been changing its tune. It's really funny to watch, you know, Pablo. Prigozhin was a non-entity on Russian television, state television, until basically Saturday. Okay, late Friday, yesterday.
00:06:35 - 00:07:18
Today he's being mentioned as if he was around forever. He's been a criminal in the morning, now he's someone with whom Putin negotiates. So it actually is really funny to watch how these people are bending themselves out of shape to provide at least some kind of semblance of normality. As for the independent media, especially those that operate in opposition, that are in exile and are free to say and to analyze things, there is also a bit of confusion, I have to say, because people are looking for reasons what actually happened. And this is not easy to do in such circumstances.
00:07:19 - 00:07:58
It also this day actually showed that there are differences of views among Russian opposition figures about what to do in such a situation. For example, billionaire and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, 1 of the most sort of famous Putin's opponents. He said, I will stand with Prigozhin because my enemy's enemy is my friend. Others said we shouldn't be standing, we shouldn't be supporting those criminals, those aggressors, even though they may dislodge Putin. This is what it seemed, at least in the middle of the day.
00:07:58 - 00:08:09
So there is actually a debate among Putin's opponents now, very much alive on Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, as we speak, Pavlo.
00:08:10 - 00:08:13
How do you think this is going to impact the war in Ukraine?
00:08:15 - 00:08:54
Oh, great question. I don't know. But definitely 1 thing for sure. This mutiny would not have happened without the war. So whether Putin or whoever will find the Kremlin very soon will decide to go for an all-out offensive, to use an anachronism from Second World War, total war, or whether it is something that will lead to Russia actually starting to try to withdraw from this mess remains to be seen.
00:08:54 - 00:09:36
My personal punch, if you wish, is that Russia doesn't have a lot of resources to prosecute this war now, especially now after this putsch, because a lot of potential mercenaries will be thinking twice whether to join after the mutiny. They all are on telegram, by the way. They all monitor messengers. And the Russian army turned out to be not very well motivated, not very well prepared. Putin can use demographic advantage and essentially fight a completely 1915 First World War style campaign in which he'll be throwing hundreds of thousands of people against Ukrainian positions.
00:09:36 - 00:10:07
But that will mean tens of thousands of coffins arriving in very fast succession. That is not what he wants, because public mood can change very significantly. So my very, very careful initial thought is that probably we'll see some attempt to, let us say, at least limit Russian involvement, military, pure military involvement in Ukraine. But that, of course, remains to be seen. But I'd say the instinct, I may be wrong, tells me this.
00:10:08 - 00:10:14
Thanks Konstantin. DW's Russia analyst Konstantin Egert joining us from Vilnius.
00:10:16 - 00:10:17
00:10:18 - 00:10:36
Well, this latest twist comes on a day of shocking developments which saw Russian authorities declare a counter-terrorist operation in Moscow in anticipation of Wagner's arrival. Wagner had marched its troops through several cities along Russia's M4 highway en route to the capital.
00:10:39 - 00:11:04
A helicopter is spotted flying low over Voronezh. Within moments a fuel depot is in flames. The blast coming shortly after reports that Wagner fighters were entering the city. Heavily armed mercenaries had reportedly been edging closer to the Russian capital throughout Saturday. These military vehicles spotted on a highway just a few hundred kilometres south of Moscow.
00:11:05 - 00:11:10
All part of an armed mutiny, according to the Russian President Vladimir Putin.
00:11:11 - 00:11:43
I repeat, any internal turmoil is a deadly threat to our statehood, to us as a nation. This is a blow to Russia and to our people, and we'll take tough action to protect the fatherland from such a threat." All Those who deliberately embarked on the path of betrayal, who prepared an armed rebellion, embarked on the path of blackmail and terrorist methods, will suffer inevitable punishment. They will answer before the law and before our people."
00:11:45 - 00:12:07
The man leading the charge on Moscow, Wagner's founder and chief, Yevgeny Prokhorin. He'd accused Russian military of launching strikes on his fighters in Ukraine and deceiving President Putin. Moving his troops into the southern city of Rostov-on-Don with a demand that Russia's military top brass come to meet him.
00:12:09 - 00:12:33
They still hope that they can win this war. But as long as there is no management, no military successes, The leadership of the Ministry of Defense is carefully deceiving the president. And the president receives those reports that do not correspond to reality in any way. There are 2 agendas. 1 on the ground, the other on the president's desk."
00:12:36 - 00:12:58
But then with Wagner's troops and vehicles littering the streets of Rostov, an apparent U-turn from Wagner's leader. An order to stop the advance on Moscow and turn around to field camps to avoid any Russian bloodshed, bringing a swift end to an apparent rebellion that threatened to destabilise Russia and the Kremlin.
00:13:00 - 00:13:18
For further analysis we're joined now by Domitila Sagromoso, Senior Lecturer in Security and Development at King's College London. Thanks for joining us on DW. So Prigozhin and his Wagner mercenary group are apparently turning back. What do you make of this latest development?
00:13:20 - 00:14:31
Yes, it is quite surprising because a few hours ago it seemed as though he had a sort of a clear road towards Moscow. But it is possible that the risk of confrontation, I think bridges entering Moscow and allowing his forces to cross and to enter into Moscow he would have faced, it was clear that there was going to be bloodshed. And probably he thought that this was maybe a more sort of responsible position to take. And maybe he got some kind of guarantees that his voice is going to be heard, that Wagner is not going to be destroyed, which seemed a bit to be the case a few weeks ago when question at the moment.
00:14:31 - 00:14:48
The end of this crisis was reportedly mediated by the Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko at Putin's request. Looking at that situation, do you think many concessions must have been made? How do you think this all came about?
00:14:50 - 00:15:25
That would have been my first thought. What did he get in return? First of all, probably to keep his, you know, Wadner as an independent structure within the armed forces. Maybe also he got assurances that his men are going to be in charge of running the military operation. But I'm thinking of a person like Surovikin, who is a general in the armed forces and who has been someone that Wagner and Pugoshin have been sort of supporting and promoting.
00:15:25 - 00:16:30
So maybe we might see someone like Surovikin becoming the new head of the armed forces, changes at the leadership with a demotion of Shoigu, the minister of defense, which hasn't been seen apparently. Apparently, Gerasimov has been in Moscow at the headquarters of the armed forces, but it is not clear where the whereabouts are of the Minister of Defense Shoigu. So, you know, maybe he got some kind of deal on that respect, that there would be changes, that there would be efforts not to expend men and equipment in such an irrational way. But it's very hard to see how this will be enforced. And I really find it hard to see how Putin, who has now been significantly weakened, is going to be in a position where he sort of accepts this new realities of Prigozhin strengthened, and that he has to sort of take into account a sort of an alternative to a certain extent a center of power.
00:16:31 - 00:16:43
So I wouldn't be surprised if efforts are carried out against him and Wadner and his leadership in the future. So, I think the situation is very complex for Putin at the moment.
00:16:45 - 00:16:50
Is it safe to say that the relationship between Putin and Prigozhin is fractured beyond repair?
00:16:53 - 00:17:33
Probably, but this is not something that is new. I think that all his criticism of Prigozhin's criticism of the Ministry of Defense, the armed forces and even Putin himself, I think, especially in the last few days. I think this has clearly deteriorated the situation. And now, you know, he, Prigozhin, who in a way was a creation of Putin, because he was, he came very handy not only in Africa, but also in Ukraine, because his forces were very effective, turned now into a big liability. And certainly I think, I don't see the kind of relation they had in the past to be restored.
00:17:33 - 00:17:45
But this is something that only sort of came clear now, but it was already in the making. It's not a novelty. To play.
00:17:46 - 00:18:03
Now, you touched on it there, but the events that we've seen in Russia have exposed serious weaknesses in defence. Do you think that this leaves Russia open to further problems? Is this the beginning of greater problems for Russia?
00:18:05 - 00:18:48
It's very possible. I mean, Russia, the problem, if you look at a map of the deployment of Russian armed forces, you know, the big bulk are in Ukraine, you know, defending what they, what Russians consider now sort of their new territories. So the whole area of Russia is a lot more vulnerable, and this was shown by the ability of Prigozhin to drive, I mean, not himself, but his men to drive all the way from Rostov to Voronezh and further north and reaching the Moscow region. So clearly there is a problem with the defenses. Also the way the defenses of the city of Moscow were carried out seemed very primitive, using trucks, blowing up bridges.
00:18:49 - 00:19:16
I mean, it all seemed very improvised. I think that the Russian government was not prepared for that. And I think they're going to start taking measures to avoid a repeat of this. So I would expect now Putin to strengthen his position in some way and to try to make sure that there is a good defensive line along Russia's borders and also around the capital. So I would expect much stringent measures also in terms of internal security.
00:19:17 - 00:19:23
What about with regards to the war in Ukraine? How do you think it's going to impact that?
00:19:24 - 00:20:06
I think it is already impacting because when the Kremlin has to focus on internal developments, it can't focus on what is happening on the ground in Ukraine, and the Ukrainians are going to take advantage to sort of push further in areas. Apparently today in Bakhmut there were advances, and in other points where they find weaknesses. Also what is important is that, you know, it is possible that Russia now will have to divert some of its forces in the theater of war in Ukraine to the defensive lines inside Russia or on Russia's borders and closer to Moscow. So I think that for the regime, the first challenge is to itself. And I think they're going to try to protect themselves first.
00:20:06 - 00:20:41
So that would maybe weaken its forces in Ukraine itself. So all this can play to Ukraine's favor. The only potential downside is if Prigozhin is running maybe the defense ministry or the armed forces in some way, and he manages to revamp the system and operate in a more effective manner. That is more of a long-term challenge, which could materialize. But I think in the short and medium term, the situation of these events favors Ukraine, I think, quite significantly.
00:20:41 - 00:21:02
We may not see a major breakthrough immediately, but it's going to impact morale. It's going to start raising questions among soldiers, you know, to what extent they want to continue fighting for this war, given that there is an alternative, that Wagner presents an alternative agenda in some way.
00:21:02 - 00:21:06
Domitila Sagramoso from King's College London. Thank you for your analysis.
00:21:08 - 00:21:06
Thank you. Thank you
Omnivision Solutions Ltd