Chaos & Insecurity at Kremlin: What’s happening in Russia?

In the vast expanse of Russia, where history, power, and uncertainty intertwine, a foreboding cloud casts its shadow over the Kremlin walls. In the murky depths of geopolitical intrigue, where power and ambition collide, the spectre of a coup d’état casts an ominous shadow over Putin’s unchallenged prowess and fate of Russia. Putin’s disastrous military adventure against Ukraine has not been going according to plan, it was hardly blitzkrieg decapitation of government. Initially, it was conjectured that Putin could be toppled by oligarch due to Western sanctions (resulting in economic losses); or loss of military personnel in the war.  However, said conjecture failed as oligarchs’ stayed loyal to Kremlin and military is patriotic to the despot.  Today, as the Russia-Ukraine war rages on with uncertain certainties on its outcome, a chilling possibility emerges—one that speaks of a clandestine coup orchestrated not by conventional forces, but by the enigmatic hands of private mercenaries or private military called “Wanger Group”. Within this cloak-and-dagger theatre, the lines between loyalty, patriotism, and profit blur, setting the stage for an audacious power play that could reshape the very foundations of the Russian Federation.  

Betrayal to Putin: Not possibility but reality.

As Mark Twain said, History doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme, as sometimes leaders fall not because of their steps are considered as wrong in eyes of their citizen, but because of usurpation of power as when young lion wishes to usurp the old lion king. Earlier appearing to be a simmering political feud in Russia has outburst into a politico-military crisis. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Wagner Group declared war against Russia’s defense ministry. On Friday, Yevgeny released series of audio messages, claiming that Russian forces has attacked his Wanger mercenary forces and caused casualties to them. It was denied by Russian military and Yevgeny failed to produce any kind of evidence. He also announced his “march for justice” towards Moscow to get justice for his troops, and then “justice for Russia” to eradicate corrupt officials leading military high command in Russia. Further, he claimed many other accusation against Russia’s defense leadership including treason against Russia’s military leaders and especially now that Wagner is dismantling Russia’s rationalizations for war against Ukraine. Putin termed action of Yevgeny as “Armed mutiny” and “stab in back of our country” and vows harsh response to defend the country and stability.

In dramatic series of events in last few hours many developments unfolded ranging from registration of criminal case by FSB  against Prigozhin for instigating a coup and arrest warrant has been issued to failed attempt of coup as Yevgeny calls to halt his justice march. Last night, turning the dices altogether Kremlin imposed Martial Law in Moscow. Subsequently, Yevgeny halted his march for justice towards Russia and abruptly reversing course will move to Belarus as part of deal to defuse crisis. Further, Kremlin said that charges against Yevgeny and his troops will be dropped.  This is all as we know right now, so taking all into account with comprehensive understanding at this moment, almost no one- not even Kremlin nor geopolitical experts knows exactly as what is happening in Russia. Is it an attempt of coup to overthrow Putin or instigating symbol of a civil war in Russia or something else together that’s motivated by Western power to end unchallenged Putin regime in Russia. Russian state agencies are on alert, and world is closely monitoring the chaos. Not delving here as what is Wagner group and who’s Yevgeny as much has been written on same.

Beyond that, all we have are unanswered questions and a few hazy vis-à-vis confabulated  possibilities. Notably, this conflict or rebel is not a direct confrontation between Russian state and mercenary group, but turning out a type of Mafia war as Putin needs to opt between (Russian Defence Minister) and Yevgeny (Head of Wagner Mercenaries) due to the bad blood between two. As Nikolas Gvosdev, a Russian watcher opined that Putin is choosing loyalty over competence as noted by Tom Nichols in his work. As the storm clouds gather and the world awaits the next move after the failed attempt of coup by Yevgeny, in this high-stakes game of power, the fate of Russia hangs in the balance.

Join me on this gripping journey through the corridors of power, as we navigate the treacherous path of internal conflict and contemplate the far-reaching consequences it may unleash upon the world stage and what was action of Yevgeny can be termed as?

Conundrum and confabulations: More crisis in Russia

Is this outbreak of civil war in Russia?

Short answer to aforesaid query is NO as the possibility of full scale civil war in Russia seems highly improbable just because of Yevgeny’s rebellion. The government’s firm control over key institutions, such as the military, intelligence services, and law enforcement, is an important aspect that lessens the risk of a civil war in Russia. These institutions are built to promote internal harmony and thwart any substantial challenges to the legitimacy of the state. The Russian government has a history of successfully repressing opposition and upholding a centralised power structure, which reduces the likelihood that internal strife will turn into a full-fledged civil war. 

The historical setting of Russia and the populace’s current attitudes also lessen the possibility of a civil war. The Russian people have shown a broad devotion to the idea of a powerful centralised state, despite sporadic social turmoil and local difficulties. This attitude discourages mass support for an insurrection or civil war, together with the government’s control over the media and popular narratives. Just to reiterate that Putin has already imposed Martial law in certain regions of Russia to maintain stability.  While civil war doesn’t seems a real possibility at present but the change of events made Kremlin worried to an extent to call actions of Yevgeny as “armed mutiny” and an attempt for “coup” to dethrone Putin to gain control over Moscow.

If not a civil war, was it attempt of coup?

In recent years, we have witnessed two prominent coups, one is in Thailand and another one is in Myanmar, where governments was toppled by militaries. In Russia, it’s highly intricated and messier. The coup attempt was made by Yevgeny but that was short lived. Notably, Yevgeny claim that “all claims of a military coup are absurd”. However, the subsequent statements made by Yevgeny removes the grim possibilities that it’s not an attempt of coup as he claims that  “Russia will soon get a new president”. The tussle and bad blood between Yevgeny and Russian military general’s turned into confrontation and subsequently resulting into an attempt of coup. It is and it was impossible to conclusively state that actions of Yevgeny was an organised enough to be a coup but intention depicts conclusively that it was a failed attempt of coup.

Resorting to history and drawing a parallel with attempted coup by Kornilov in September 1917 and Yevgeny in 2023. There’s similarity that both styled themselves as nation’s saviour and hoped that their forces would grow as they neared the capital. However, in the end, the forces in case of Kornilov got disintegrated and he failed to takeover. At present, the outcome of Yevgeny’s action is yet to be decided, despite, that the looming clouds of coup got halted but still there’s no finality yet as what future holds for Putin.

The decision taken by Yevgeny in latest development completely ruled out the possibility of civil war vis-à-vis of coup in Russia. The mediation by Minsk resulted into withdrawal of Wagner mercenary forces to advance further towards Moscow, Yevgeny orders his fighter to return back from Moscow to avoid bloodshed.

Kremlin: At present and what next?

As aptly noted by Tom Nicholas that past 24 hours in Russia appears to be the backstory of Madam Secretary or The West Wing episode. Russia is fragmenting. Even though Yevgeny Prigozhin just made an unanticipated stand-down announcement while heading to Moscow, it is obvious that his rebellion action or armed mutiny as termed by Kremlin continues to pose the biggest threat to Vladimir Putin since he came in power in 1999. It’s important to understand that the action by Yevgeny and chaos that Putin faced in last 48 hours amounts to a death knell for Wagner group, the same is opined by political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya. As crisis was unfolding in Russia, Kremlin gets support from Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of Chechen Army to end the mutiny and earlier Russia’s defence military has signed a contract with Chechen special forces. 

Despite the fact that Putin appears to have everything covered, the deaths of Beria and Khrushchev have demonstrated that allegiances can change when the Kremlin is facing a crisis. Bortnikov might decide to switch sides in order to save his own skin, just like Semichastny did. When faced with a coalition of Putin’s adversaries, even Shoigu and Zolotov might think about defecting, just like Beria’s lieutenants did. A coup against Putin would undoubtedly be the most dangerous and risky operation in Kremlin history, but one thing appears clear it’s not an impossibility even in coming future.

Road ahead and Concluding remarks

It’s interesting to watch as how the further events will roll out in Russia as it will impact geopolitics at large, as Russia is still one of the super powers. Will Putin Let Yevgeny Go that easily as it is specially bizarre in Putin’s Russia where patriotism and statehood is at highest pedestal and even teenagers can be jailed for posting anything critical on Russia-Ukraine crisis. Here, Yevgeny said that Russia’s attack on Ukraine was based on lies.  It appears that Putin stuck in Catch-22 situation, atleast in present with this failed attempt of coup by Yevgeny.

 It’s an unprecedented and unexpected challenge for the Putin’s leadership and might be a defining moment for Russia. Further, the Western nation and Ukraine gets an opportunity to topple the Kremlin’s leadership in order to end the War in Ukraine as noted by Dalibor Rohac, it’s an altogether different inquiry as how Yevgeny’s rebellion and attempt of coup affect and impact Russia-Ukraine war and Putin’s throne at Kremlin. Whatever the outcome of present crisis, Yevgeny has destroyed Putin’s narrative by painting the conflict as an unnecessary and even criminal error. That presents Putin with a challenge that may persist after the uprising.

Notably, very few people exactly know as what’s happening in Kremlin at the moment as post Russia-Ukraine crisis it’s too difficult for objective foreign journalism in Russia. Thus, to conclude it’s apt to quote Sam Greene, professor at King’s College London Don’t assume you know what’s happening, he said, “Better to embrace the uncertainty and prepare for a range of plausible outcomes.”

Shelal Lodhi Rajput
Shelal Lodhi Rajput
Shelal Lodhi Rajput is studying law at Symbiosis Law School, Pune in India. He has previously interned with top Law firms, think tanks, organisations and NGOs. His primary research interests include but are not limited to constitutional, human rights and international law amongst diverse interests. He is passionate about the intersection of constitutional law and international human rights law. He loves to write on current issues in international relations and span his interest about the geopolitics facet arising from the same in consonance with legal.