A word from General Ben: Wagner Mutiny Analysis
This assessment reflects the opinions and views of General (Ret.) Ben Hodges.
The situation stemming from the Wagner mutiny is far from over, and the implications are yet to be fully understood, with much more coming to light over the next few days. But one thing is evident - as James Sherr stated, "The unfolding drama should be read as a clear and damning sign of political and military failure. Such events as we are witnessing in Russia do not occur in armies that believe they are on their way to victory".
As a result, the West must recalculate its assessment of Putin's power and strength within Russia as well as his willingness and ability to use nuclear weapons. Clearly, he cannot count on the loyalty of all his officers. The whole world saw that Putin, contrary to the image he has cultivated over the last 20 years, is not a strong leader and master of planning. In fact, he does not even appear strong. Instead, we saw an old, scared, retired KGB office agent who did not seem to have complete control of Russia.
What remains to be confirmed:
- The exact nature and details of the "deal”;
- Prigozhin's future: if he chooses to stay in Belarus, he will face a high risk of being assassinated within a few weeks;
- The benefits Lukashenko gained from this situation: He may emerge as the winner and will apparently "host" Prigozhin, meaning he will have at least one strong personality disloyal to Putin staying in his country. This could provide security guarantees to Lukashenko from Putin. Nonetheless, Lukashenko has economic interests in Africa, and Prigozhin may be helpful in this area;
- Whom Putin can trust;
- What will happen to Shoigu and Gerasimov: Shoigu still appears to be the Minister of Defense. If correct, this shows that Putin values loyalty more than competence.
What we think we know:
- Russia has lost 25,000 Wagner troops. They will either leave or be dispersed, under suspicion, across the army. The regular army hates mercenaries as much as they hate Chechens and the FSB, making a smooth integration difficult;
- Many civilians in Rostov appear to have either supported or cheered Wagner's march on Moscow or were utterly apathetic. Nobody rallied in public to support Putin or his regime;
- Russian intelligence is either terrible or complicit;
- Russia cannot defend its border because 95% of its troops are deployed in Ukraine;
- Kazakhstan's leader, a member state of the CSTO, refused to welcome Putin or express any support.
Is this a possible opportunity for Putin?
- These events might create an exit strategy opportunity for Putin. He can create a new narrative that Russia is fighting all of NATO and the CIA and, therefore, must consolidate Russia's strength to defend the Motherland. This narrative would allow him to suspend operations in Ukraine and pull troops back.
- Another possibility is that Putin doubles down, focusing his anger and resentment on the war in Ukraine. While the prospects of an already likely major defeat of Russian forces seem even greater, this appears to be a likely scenario;
- A probable purge is coming for oligarchs and military personnel who were not sufficiently loyal over the last few days.
Opportunities for Ukraine and the West:
- The West can invite Russian troops to surrender or leave, an action that Ukraine is already taking. No soldier wants to be killed or wounded if they sense it is for a losing cause or if it is about to end. Currently, Russian soldiers sitting in trenches must be wondering what is happening above and behind them, leading them to question whether or not they want to stay there. There is little to no trust in the command structure;
- Ukraine should take advantage of the chaos and uncertainty in the Russian high command. Ukrainian forces are continuing their counteroffensive, undeterred and undistracted;
- This also presents an opportunity for the West to disrupt the Wagner Group's operations in Africa.