“The lack of orders from the Kremlin’s top command left local officials to decide for themselves how to act, according to the European security officials.” w/@shaneharris @gregpmiller https://t.co/sD88UyQNhz
— Catherine Belton (@CatherineBelton) July 25, 2023
From the Washington Post, “Putin appeared paralyzed and unable to act in first hours of rebellion” [unpaywalled gift link]:
When Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, launched his attempted mutiny on the morning of June 24, Vladimir Putin was paralyzed and unable to act decisively, according to Ukrainian and other security officials in Europe. No orders were issued for most of the day, the officials said.
The Russian president had been warned by the Russian security services at least two or three days ahead of time that Prigozhin was preparing a possible rebellion, according to intelligence assessments shared with The Washington Post. Steps were taken to boost security at several strategic facilities, including the Kremlin, where staffing in the presidential guard was increased and more weapons were handed out, but otherwise no actions were taken, these officials said.
“Putin had time to take the decision to liquidate [the rebellion] and arrest the organizers” said one of the European security officials, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. “Then when it began to happen, there was paralysis on all levels. … There was absolute dismay and confusion. For a long time, they did not know how to react.”
This account of the standoff, corroborated by officials in Western governments, provides the most detailed look at the paralysis and disarray inside the Kremlin during the first hours of the severest challenge to Putin’s 23-year presidency. It is consistent with public comments by CIA Director William J. Burns last week that for much of the 36 hours of the mutiny Russian security services, the military and decision-makers “appeared to be adrift.”
It also appears to expose Putin’s fear of directly countering a renegade warlord who’d developed support within Russia’s security establishment over a decade. Prigozhin had become an integral part of the Kremlin global operations by running troll farms disseminating disinformation in the United States and paramilitary operations in the Middle East and Africa, before officially taking a vanguard position in Russia’s war against Ukraine…
The longtime symbiosis of the two men, who first met in St. Petersburg in the early 1990s, has exposed the weaknesses of Putin’s crony system of management, where rival clans are pitted against each other, and which has been stretched to a breaking point by the war….
Many on the local level could not believe the Wagner rebellion could be happening without some degree of agreement with the Kremlin, the security officials said — despite Putin’s emergency televised address to the nation on the morning of the mutiny in which he vowed tough action to stop the rebels, and despite a warrant issued for Prigozhin’s arrest for “incitement to insurrection” on the eve of his march to Moscow.
“The local authorities did not receive any commands from the leadership,” said a senior Ukrainian security official. “From our point of view this is the biggest sign of the unhealthy situation inside Russia. The authoritarian system is formed in such a way that without a very clear command from the leadership, people don’t do anything. When the leadership is in turmoil and disarray, it is the same situation at the local level and even worse.”…
One senior NATO official said some senior figures in Moscow appeared ready to rally behind Prigozhin had he succeeded in achieving his demands. “There seem to have been important people in the power structures … who seem to have even been sort of waiting for this, as if his attempt had been more successful, they would also” have joined the plot, this official said.
Prigozhin’s increasingly vitriolic tirades blaming corruption and mismanagement by the Russian military command for battlefield setbacks and high casualties in the war against Ukraine had resonated with many sectors of Russian society. Many in the rank and file of the Russian army also wanted Prigozhin to succeed in forcing change at the top of the Russian military, believing that then “it would become easier for them to fight,” this official said…
The lack of direction from the Kremlin during the crisis has left Putin significantly weakened, according to his critics. “Putin showed himself to be a person who is not able to make serious, important and quick decisions in critical situations. He just hid,” said Gennady Gudkov, a former colonel in the Russian security services who is now an opposition politician in exile. “This was not understood by most of the Russian population. But it was very well understood by Putin’s elite. He is no longer the guarantor of their security and the preservation of the system.”
“Russia is a country of mafia rules. And Putin made an unforgivable mistake,” said a senior Moscow financier with ties to the Russian intelligence services. “He lost his reputation as the toughest man in town.”…
Russia doesn’t have bases, because Russia doesn’t have friends, because other countries understand that Russia is never an ally https://t.co/BlTwMze13L
— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) July 25, 2023
Russian expat Julia Ioffe, for Puck, on Prigozhin — and Putin — at the Aspen Security Forum:
The other man who haunted the Forum this year was Russian warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin. On the eve of the conference, MI6 head Richard Moore told an audience in Prague that Prigozhin’s mutiny exposed “deep fractures” in the Russian elite. “I don’t think it needs all the resources of MI6 to conclude that there are deep fractures within the Russian elite around Putin,” he said. “If you have an invading army coming up the road at you, that indicates there has been a falling out.”
This provided the perfect opening question for the generalists interviewing the principals, who all led with the same vague, open-ended question about the deep fractures before settling for vague answers: Putin is obviously weaker, Prigozhin said out loud that the war was based on a false premise, and his mutiny showed, in the words of C.I.A. Director Burns, “does the emperor have no clothes or… why is he taking so long to get dressed?’”
Burns, a career diplomat, is skilled at saying nothing while talking plenty. But he was once ambassador to Russia and is one of the foremost experts on the place, and just hearing his insights on Putin and what he thinks is happening inside Russia was fascinating. As Prigozhin marched on Moscow, Burns said, the security services seemed “adrift,” while the elites wondered if Putin was no longer the arbiter—or their protector from each other. As for why Prigozhin is still alive and getting meetings in Moscow, Burns said, “Putin hates, in my experience anyway, the image that he’s overreacting to things.” Putin, Burns said, “is trying to buy time as he considers what to do with Wagner and Prigozhin himself.”
While he does that, he “is trying to settle things as much as he can” and that he’s going to “separate Prigozhin from what’s of value in Wagner.” Prigozhin has been to Belarus in the meantime, Burns continued, but, as he told the forum, “I’m not sure he has any plans to retire in the suburbs of Minsk.” Burns also had a warning: “Putin is someone who generally thinks that revenge is a dish best served cold, so he’s going to try to settle the situation to the extent he can. But, again, in my experience, Putin is the ultimate apostle of payback… so if I were Prigozhin, I wouldn’t fire my food taster.” …
I later caught Burns as he stood in the shade and asked him why he thought Prigozhin choked and turned back. “Some of his men started getting cold feet,” he explained. “This wasn’t what they had signed up for.” Prigozhin, Burns had said in his panel, was “making it up as he went along” on June 24. But, as he told me, he only had 5,000 men marching toward Moscow, not nearly enough to take a city with mined bridges and armed with Putin’s praetorian guard.
Did he see Putin as a procrastinator, who just needs to get through one more week, one more month, one more year, I asked? Burns agreed with that characterization: “He will dither and stall as long as possible,” he said, hoping for something to come along and save him. “He’s not a master strategist,” Burns added as a nervous press officer started creeping closer. “But he’s lost some of his tactical finesse.”
Well, they fucked that whole ‘fear us!’ thing up completely by sticking their entire army in Ukraine and watching it slowly get annihilated… ?????
— NAFO BoomerCanine #NAFORapidResponseForce (@BeachBoomerDog3) July 18, 2023
That’s what you get for going to Russia. https://t.co/MXU4xG5etD
— HawaiiDelilah™ ?? (@HawaiiDelilah) July 30, 2023
Of course, predictably, Putin has his defenders, even here in America…
James Comer is a mental flatline, a combustible extreme of greed, intolerance, stupidity and arrogance.
He neither has the mental acumen nor the will to be anything more than flaming cultural flatulence. https://t.co/ZOGvlqhRBv
— Brian J. Karem (@BrianKarem) July 20, 2023
Tang the Conqueror is a one trick phony. https://t.co/7conRBdi55
— Ragnarok Lobster (@eclecticbrotha) July 30, 2023