Vladimir Putin may have managed to weasel out of what appeared to be an attempted coup by his former chef Yevgeny Prigozhin, but his grip on power may still be looser than ever, an analyst has suggested.
The dictator was humiliated in more ways than one by the brutal, if brief, mutiny. Prigozhin and his Wagner group of mercenaries were stopped in their march to Moscow just 120 miles from the capital, having vowed to “destroy anyone who stands in our way”.
After negotiations with the Kremlin, the mercenary boss abruptly halted his advance while Putin dropped all charges against him, prompting many to wonder what kind of offer had been made.
While some Ukrainians said they were “sorry” to see the coup end because they “had hope” that it could spell an end to Russia’s invasion, or at least ignificant weakening of their military power, Sky’s International Affairs Editor Dominic Waghorn said Putin is far from out of the woods.
READ MORE Ukraine makes huge strides against Russia in counterattack as Putin distracted
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said the weekend’s events showed Russia is in chaos, with no one in control.
Mr Waghorn said: “Russia looks militarily weak too. Taking an army within a couple of hundred kilometres of Moscow can be done it seems in less than a day.”
He added: “There is the sense here that we have seen only act one of this drama play out so far.
“There is the hope Russia will be weakened on the frontline most – where it counts for Ukrainians two weeks into their counteroffensive.”
There is already evidence that this may have happened.
Ukraine liberated an area that had been occupied since 2014, reclaiming an area near Krasnohorivka, southwest of Donetsk in the far east of Ukraine following a “well-prepared assault”.
A handful of new operations in the counteroffensive have been reported since Prigozhin declared his uprising on Friday night, with a video emerging showing Ukrainian artillery destroying a group of Russian military supply trucks in the Zaporizhzhia area.
Meanwhile, explosions and air strikes have been reported in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, deep inside Russian-occupied territory.
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But Mr Waghorn also pointed out that “the gravest threat to Putin yet has failed and Ukrainians will be asking themselves this: if Russia’s dictator could outfox a warlord with a battle-hardened army of mercenaries, can he be threatened by anything else?”
The despot has certainly been trying to give the appearance of reclaiming control.
Talking to state media in an interview, which is believed to be pre-recorded, he said he remains “confident” in his forces and plans to step up efforts in his Ukraine “special operation”.
The Russian president claimed his troops are “in a position to implement all the plans and tasks ahead of us”.
He said his optimism extended to topics ranging from Moscow’s “defence”, his “special military operation”, and the “economy as a whole and its individual areas”.
Prigozhin’s march was nominally an effort to boot out Russia’s top military brass – Minister of Defence, Sergei Shoigu, andChief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov.
Analysts are split on whether Putin will try to downsize Prigozhin’s power by removing him from the Wagner Group, or if he will sack Shoigu and Gerasimov to placate his former cook.
The whereabouts and health of these two Russian generals are currently unknown.
Neither provided any public statements during Prigozhin’s coup.
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