UPDATE: Midnight in California, Midday in Moscow: News is coming in. The coup looks like it is for real.
Check out, for example, Michael Mcfaul:
At this point there seem to be two schools of thought remaining as to what is going down in Russia. Either Prigozhin is rebelling against Putin, or the two of them are working to manufacture a national emergency, complete with a villain who can be blamed for every failure.
1) If it’s a real rebellion, others have written extensively about this. This may be the most likely explanation. If so, it would seem that Putin is going down and his war in Ukraine is doomed to imminent failure.
2) However, it may be that Putin needs a trusted ally to help create an excuse for why things went so terribly wrong in Ukraine, and to create a scapegoat he can blame. I am not the first to write about this possibility, but here are some bullet points:
- Prigozhin has avoided blaming Putin for anything. That behavior allows the possibility that Putin may pardon him.
- Prigozhin has consistently blamed several high-ranking members of the MOD, including Minister of Defense Shoigu and General Valery Gerasimov.
- Putin cannot back out of Ukraine without losing face and very possibly his life. Unless, of course, he has a credible scapegoat.
- Candidates for scapegoat must be influential enough that they could have effed up the entire Special Military Operation. Shoigu, in particular, meets that criteria.
- All of the reports and video I have seen thus far do not involve a lot of death and destruction. The video I saw of the destruction of the Wagner camp showed significant but not devastating material damage. I didn’t see any bodies, just a lot of forest and a couple of small fires.
- As we have seen in Belarus, military vehicles moving about does not prove that any actual fighting is about to occur. In fact, driving a few troops around Moscow and one or two other cities is very cheap, and very effective at creating the appearance of a coup under way.
I guess I’m hoping for option 1) but leaning towards option 2) at this point.
We should know tomorrow. If it’s an actual coup, there will be quite a bit of actual fighting. If not, Putin may announce that Prigozhin is right, and that Shoigu has been arrested.
You may insert a semi-mandatory popcorn quip if you wish. I’m going to get a proper meal of chile verde with rice and refried beans. Maybe popcorn later tonight.
EDIT: The biggest problem with Prigozhin and Putin conspiring to end the war and blame Shoigu is that the people of Ukraine will never allow it. They want every square kilometer of their land back, and every one of their people.