The details behind mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s short-lived “march on Moscow” last weekend are still shrouded in mystery. But there are some clear outcomes. The 24 hours of panic and uncertainty underlined the splits inside the Russian ruling class and its military.
The ease with which Prigozhin’s Wagner forces could grab swathes of territory, including the key military hub of Rostov-on-Don, showed the fragility of Putin’s regime. The US and its allies hoped to profit from the unrest, and they knew about it days before it happened.
The New York Times reports, “American intelligence officials briefed senior military and administration officials on Wednesday that Prigozhin, the leader of the mercenary Wagner Group, was preparing to take military action against senior Russian defence officials, according to officials familiar with the matter. US spy agencies had indications days earlier that Prigozhin was planning something.”
Russian state media is now proclaiming that Putin has achieved a great victory after Prigozhin called off his revolt. Putin’s government announced a new law that will bring private military contractors under the control of the Ministry of Defence. But it was framed in a very soft tone towards Wagner last weekend.
The head of the committee for defence in the State Duma—parliament—Andrei Kartapolov said he believed that Wagner fighters in Rostov-on-Don “didn’t do anything reprehensible”. He said they were “just following the orders of their commanders.”
According to Kartapolov, they “didn’t offend anyone or break anything”. And no one has any complaints about them—“neither the residents of Rostov, the soldiers in the Southern Military District, or law enforcement agencies.”
Kartapolov added that the fate of Wagner Group has not yet been determined, but he didn’t believe it should be banned. That’s not how repressive governments generally react to a widespread mutiny. It may reflect fear of the support for Wagner or the desire not to provoke wider rebellions. In any case, it makes Putin look weak.
Putin deliberately distorted history by claiming that last weekend saw “actions splitting our unity, a betrayal of our people. It’s a stab in the back of our country and our people. It was such a blow that was dealt to Russia in 1917 when the country was fighting in the First World War, but its victory was stolen.
“Intrigues, bickering and politicking behind the back of the army and the people turned out to be the greatest catastrophe, the destruction of the army and the state, loss of huge territories, resulting in a tragedy and a civil war.” His mention of the 1917 Russian Revolution shows his fear of a real revolt.
The October Revolution was not a “stab in the back”—the phrase also used by the German ruling class when its armed forces mutinied following the Russian example. It was an immense movement of workers, soldiers and peasants against a “liberal” regime that was continuing the imperialist war that hurled millions into the killing fields.
Such a movement is needed now. Prigozhin’s coup deflected attention from Ukraine’s bloody counter-offensive. Backed to the hilt by Nato money and weaponry, the attack has achieved only very limited gains at the cost of appalling casualties.
One US media report admits, “Three weeks into a counteroffensive critical to Ukraine’s prospects against Russia, its army is encountering an array of vexing challenges that complicate its plans, even as it wields sophisticated new Western-provided weapons.
“Not least is a vast swath of minefields protecting Russia’s defensive line, forming a killing field for Ukrainian troops advancing on the open steppe of the south.” It resembles a First World War onslaught where rulers and generals launch offensives regardless of the human cost. But today the weaponry is far more fearsome.
The solution will not come from elite manoeuvres or replacing one bunch of military thugs with another. Instead in both east and west there has to be a revolutionary revolt from below against the military, the politicians and the system that leads to war.
In Britain the main enemy is the Tories, the US and Nato. Much of the left has collapsed into support for one or other side of the proxy war in Ukraine. They cover up Putin’s crimes or cheer as Nato pours weaponry into the conflict. The slogans should be Russian troops out of Ukraine, no to Nato escalation and expansion, down with all imperialism, and build for revolution against all the ruling classes.
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