We’re finally seeing a Russian 3-day operation.
This has been so well planned, what the hell was it that Wagner was doing in Bakhmut?
No protests is a good observation. No one gives a shit. In his speech, Putin essentially called for the elimination of all the Wagnerites. Their response is equally inflammatory:
This is a real war, and no one will back down. And with the systematic lack of opposition to Wagner’s advance, it’s clear that Moscow has lost control of its forces.
So what’s left for Russian forces in Ukraine? Why are they fighting? For who are they fighting?
Today Mark Sumner told me not to worry, the war would still be here in two weeks when I returned from my vacation. Right now, that’s no longer a sure thing. This could still be crushed in a couple of days. But it’s increasingly apparent this thing has legs, and we may be witnessing history on par with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
And if the root of Putin’s fall is Ukraine’s fierce and costly defense of Bakhmut, we’ll that’ll be quite the plot twist, and I’ll have plenty of crow to eat—having long questioned the wisdom of losing so much for Ukraine’s 58th largest city.
Russian propagandists are sad.
Putin was supposed to address the nation an hour ago. Crickets. State TV hasn’t gotten their talking points and don’t know what to do.
My digital detox vacation may have to be put off an extra day or two…
Rostov was likely the chief logistical hub supplying Russian forces in Ukraine. Right now, Wagner is raiding storage facilities of weapons that were going to be used against Ukraine, and there’s nothing Russia can do about it.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
I think he means the former headquarters of the Russian Southern Military District. Also known as Wagner HQ.
Wagner just conquered Russia’s 10th largest city in hours, population 1 million, after taking 9 months to take Ukraine’s 58th largest city.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
Google and many Western sites are now reportedly blocked in Russia. It’s not quite Swan Lake on every channel, but it’s getting there.
I write down below that Wagner can’t sustain itself logistically. And they certainly won’t be able to project beyond Rostov. But perhaps they don’t have to. Given Rostov’s logistical importance, there are likely enough supplies for Wagner to hole up indefinitely. And is Russia going to give one of its own cities the Bakhmut treatment? Shit is getting interesting just as I’m about to board a plane on my vacation. Goddam it.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
This is absolutely surreal. These people pointing their phones are an alien species to these guys fresh from Bakhmut. How any of them feels the least bit safe is beyond me.
Hilarious comment by mememe:
2021: The russian army is 2nd in the world!
2022: The russian army is 2nd in Ukraine!
2023: The russian army is 2nd in Russia!
UPDATE: kos ·
I mentioned in the main story that Rostov is a Russian logistical hub. It may be the hub, since the Starobilsk area up north is so lightly defended, I doubt Russia has much up there left to defend.
With Ukraine working on cutting supply lines from Crimea, and Wagner doing them a solid in Rostov, this could be quite fortuitous for the good guys, even if it’s just for the short term.
Damn, this thing might be real after all.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
There are reports that these actually are Wagner forces deploying in Rostov. It’s just after 5AM in Moscow. The lighting seems right. I see no symbols here to confirm the identity, but it also would be extremely weird for official forces to be deploying in this way.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
I’m assuming these are Russian military or Rosgvardiya. Because it’s hard to believe people would just be standing around taking videos as Wagner forces occupy the city.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
Well, there might actually be some fighting on the way in Rostov. Hard to imagine how Prigozhin thinks this is going to work.
What we know so far:
Russia’s Ministry of Defense demanded, a week or two ago, that all private military contractors (mercenaries) register with the ministry and place themselves under official Russian control.
Wagner CEO Yevgeny Progozhin was like “nah,” and proceeded to spend all week releasing videos about how Russia was losing the war, taking repeated shots at his chief rival, Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu.
Today, Prigozhin released a video claiming that Russia’s entire rationale for going to war against Ukraine was bullshit.
Right now, the MoD is trying to deceive society and the president and tell a story that there was insane aggression from the Ukrainian side and they were going to attack with the whole NATO bloc.
The [special military operation] was started on 24 February for completely different reasons.
Not long after, Prigozhin claimed that Russian army forces had fired on his forces and killed a number of them. So in return, he declared war.
The big question is how much of this is real, and how much is theater.
Prigozhin claimed his forces are moving toward Rostov, on the Russian border. Russia is taking the threat seriously.
Location of Rostov, a key Russian logistical hub on the Azov Sea.
While there’s tons of videos of Russian security forces setting up positions and roadblocks all around Rostov oblast and Moscow, we have seen zero video of the alleged Wagner column moving into Russia.
Lots of speculation that Prigozhin is out on a limb and has lost all oligarch and security services support. Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at Carnegie’s Russia operation, has an interesting post on Twitter:
Here are a few insights into the situation surrounding Prigozhin:
For a long time, Prigozhin has been out of direct contact with Putin, yet he's believed he was acting in Putin's interests "by default". His significant contributions in the war enhanced his sense of exclusivity and privilege.
The President's administration maintained the stance that unless explicitly directed, it wasn't feasible to openly confront Prigozhin, despite a strong inclination to do so. In fact, they had even convinced themselves of his usefulness.
As I've previously stated, the atrocities of war can drive people to the brink of sanity. Even the most loyal players, who are dependent on the Kremlin (which doesn't imply complete manageability), can lose their sense of proportion. This is especially true when there appears to be no response to the continual attempts to escalate the situation.
Now that the state has actively engaged, there's no turning back. The termination of Prigozhin and Wagner is imminent. The only possibility now is absolute obliteration, with the degree of resistance from the Wagner group being the only variable. Surovikin was dispatched to convince them to surrender. Confrontation seems totally futile
The impending end of Wagner has satisfied many in power. He had become excessively anti-state, which is intolerable during a war. However, a significant number of those outside of power now lament the loss of a character like Prigozhin, who had begun to appeal due to his daring and audacity. Consequently, political repercussions are expected.A crucial point to note is that many within the elite will now personally fault Putin for letting the situation escalate to such extremes and for his lack of a timely, adequate response when to many it was evident that Prigozhin was pushing the limits of Kremlin's tolerance. Therefore, this entire saga is also an undercut to Putin's standing.
We've seen Gen. Sergey Surovikin before—he’s the Russian general who was given overall command of the Russian war effort last fall, then proceeded to retreat from Kherson. That part worked in our favor, but he also did another thing that so far is vexing Ukraine—he started building the extensive network of fortifications that now scar the Ukrainian landscape in Russian-occupied territories. He also launched the destructive missile campaign against Ukrainian energy facilities throughout the winter. He’s a real asshole, but not enough of one to survive the job. He was demoted after Ukrainians didn’t freeze over the winter.
As I googled our coverage of Surovikin, I came across this June 12 update entry:
If that seems like Shoigu is trying to steal the only valuable thing from Prigozhin’s company, the Wagner CEO agrees. So on Monday, he engaged in his favorite game: red line crossing. That’s because his not-so-subtle response included the statement that “if Shoigu tries to take over Wagner PMC, Shoigu will die.”
However, Prigozhin says he will take orders. Just not from Shoigu. He will only take orders from Russian general Sergey Surovikin.
Well, Surovikin told Prigozhin to stand down and was ignored. So much for taking orders from him.
There are few scenarios in which this is more than weekend drama. Remember Prigozhin whining daily about a lack of artillery and other ammunition from Russia’s ministry of defense during his assault on Bakhmut? Wagner has no ability to sustain itself, logistically, without tapping into the Russian war machine. It has now declared war on it, so where is Wagner going to get its fuel, ammunition, spare parts, food, water, and all the other things an army needs to move?
Of course, I’m heading out on vacation in a few hours, and will be digitally detoxing, so the paragraph above might age poorly and I’ll be blissfully unaware. But it’s truly hard to see this as anything but a short-lived tantrum. Best-case scenario is that they spend a few days killing each other, expending ammunition that would’ve otherwise been directed at Ukrainians.
This is mostly a win-win. Prigozhin is the worst, a war criminal with untold blood on his hands. HIs death will be celebrated by the civilized world. The big question mark is Africa: What happens to Wagner forces currently raping and pillaging their way through the continent in service of the worst repressive regimes? Unmoored by any structure, those Russian mercenaries might engage in even worse atrocities—they’ll want to get paid somehow. Or, they retreat and create a power vacuum that will lead to more death and violence in areas that have already suffered too much of it.
There are certainly consequences to what’s happening. President Joe Biden is being briefed on developments. Don’t expect this to lead to the fracture of the Russian federation, but if nothing else, we’ll get to see the worst people staring each other down for the next few days, if not outright killing each other.
Gary Kasparov has his take:
Don't wonder what will happen if Russia collapses. It already did! Years ago. It's not a state, it's a mafia front with factions fighting each other for money, resources, and power.
Whatever is happening now, it was already clear Putin wasn't able to control every faction or to keep the infighting quiet or at least non-violent the way he mostly could before.
The pointing fingers among Russian factions will increasingly be on triggers as Ukrainian victories multiply. The towers of lies will collapse and new, smaller ones built. Defeat will be denied, then blamed on rivals, then fake victory declared by the survivors.
Whoever keeps control, Putin or anyone else, will be faced with threats & instability. It is vital for the free world not to offer any lifelines to murderers. We do not expect democracy and liberty to suddenly flourish, but there can be no deals with Russian war criminals.
There will be attempts to use internal conflict as pretext for ceasefires, sanctions relief, and other charades to give Russia time to regroup and reload while occupying Ukrainian territory & continuing the terror. No.
Do not let whatever mafia show that is now out in the open in Russia distract from the goal of Ukrainian victory. It is time to accelerate, not hesitate. If you agree that "let them all lose" in Russia is ideal, the road to that is victory. Glory to Ukraine.
PS Please keep in mind that even more than usual, everything coming out of the Kremlin, and Russian generally, will be lies. It's instinctive and about control. Such people would not admit they were drowning to a lifeguard.