UKRAINE UPDATE: 29 JUNE 2023
Putin weakened after failed mutiny, says Biden; Poland to raise security on its Belarus border
US President Joe Biden said Vladimir Putin has been weakened by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s failed rebellion as the Russian leader stepped up his effort to portray the mercenary leader as corrupt.
‘I know he is,” US President Joe Biden told reporters at the White House in response to whether Putin is weaker after the most serious threat to his nearly quarter-century in power. “He’s losing the war at home, and he has become a bit of a pariah around the world.”
As many in Russia’s elite have been shocked at Putin’s failure to prevent the mutiny attempt, the Kremlin chief is on a campaign to undercut any sympathy towards Yevgeny Prigozhin, a one-time ally and chief of the Wagner Group, and show he’s firmly in control.
- Putin says he’s back in control but Russia’s elite isn’t so sure
- Russians greeted Wagner mutiny with a shrug and internet jokes
- Zelensky urges Nato to disregard Kremlin on Ukraine membership
- Aborted Russia mutiny boosts support for more US arms to Ukraine
- Wagner’s mutiny creates new questions about its business empire
Poland to raise security on its Belarus border
Poland said it will increase security on its border with Belarus on concern that the presence of the Wagner group may intensify what it’s calling hybrid warfare with its neighbour.
“We potentially have a new situation in Belarus with the Wagner presence,” Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said at a news conference in Warsaw. “The situation is dangerous for Ukraine, and it’s also potentially dangerous for Lithuania and us.”
Poland estimates that about 8,000 Wagner members will be in Belarus, which may mean a “new phase of hybrid warfare” that is “much more difficult than we observe now”, Kaczynski said.
Russians greeted Wagner mutiny with a shrug and internet jokes
In the turbulent confrontation between President Vladimir Putin and Wagner mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, one key element appeared to be absent — ordinary Russians.
Long fearful of harsh official punishments for criticism of the authorities, particularly over the war in Ukraine, most Russians were reduced to bystanders as their country hurtled toward what Putin called the brink of a “civil war” on Saturday.
They responded to the crisis by just getting on with their lives, though many took to the internet to laugh darkly at social media memes and jokes aimed at Prigozhin, the Russian army and even Putin. One popular meme shows the Netflix logo and a scene from a movie with the slogan: “Wagner. Coming soon.”
Iosif Prigozhin, a well-known music producer in Russia who isn’t related to the Wagner founder, became the focus of humour on Instagram. Users asked whether Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who brokered a deal to end the revolt, had held talks “with the right Prigozhin?”
While state media gave extensive coverage to Putin’s televised address to the nation early Saturday condemning as “traitors” those involved in the rebellion, there was scant reporting of the events that had prompted the speech.
Putin steps up effort to undercut Wagner leader after revolt
President Vladimir Putin sought to cast the Wagner leader who rose against him as corrupt, even as he said the Kremlin was financing the mercenary’s operations.
As Yevgeny Prigozhin arrived in Belarus in his private jet from St Petersburg on Tuesday, Putin was detailing more than $3-billion he said Russia had paid from the state budget in the past year for Wagner’s troops and for food supplied by Prigozhin’s Concord catering company for the Russian army fighting in Ukraine.
“I hope that no one stole anything, or, let’s say, stole just a little, in the course of this work,” Putin told a group of soldiers at the Kremlin. “We will of course look into all this.”
The portrayal of Prigozhin as a grasping traitor was an effort to undercut the Wagner leader’s claims to popular sympathy as his troops raced through southern Russia to within 200km of Moscow before aborting the rebellion after a deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Under the agreement, Putin pledged not to prosecute Wagner for armed mutiny and investigators closed a criminal case on Tuesday.
That doesn’t mean prosecutors can’t open embezzlement and corruption cases, according to Alexander Baunov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Ordinary Russian citizens, for the most part, love defenders of the motherland, and don’t like sly businessmen,” he said on Telegram.
Biden says Putin weakened, though unclear how much
The US president said it’s unclear to what extent Putin has lost hold on power, even as he expressed confidence that the Russian leader had. “It’s hard to tell, but he is clearly losing the war,” Biden told reporters in brief remarks at the White House.
Biden has said the US and its allies were not behind the revolt. White House officials have repeatedly declined to comment on the power struggle, saying it is an internal Russian matter.
Mercenary leader moved up plot after it was discovered, WSJ reports
Prighozin’s mutiny was aimed at capturing Russian military leaders — and was moved forward after the plot was discovered by the Kremlin’s domestic intelligence service, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported, citing unnamed Western officials.
The mercenary leader’s original plan involved seizing Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and armed forces chief Valery Gerasimov during a visit to southern Russia, the newspaper said. Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, laid bare the plot two days before it was to be executed, potentially explaining Prigozhin’s decision to march on Moscow, it reported.
Ukraine calls for Russia to be seen as high-risk jurisdiction
Putin’s acknowledgement that the Kremlin financed the Wagner mercenary group should prompt the international community to recognise Russia as a high-risk jurisdiction and issue relevant market advisories to “avoid contributing to financing terrorism and organised crime,” Ukraine’s Finance Ministry said.
The Wagner Group is designated as a terrorist organisation by Estonia, Lithuania, and the French Parliament, while the US has sanctioned Wagner Group as a Transnational Criminal Organisation, the ministry said. Ukraine is seeking to make Russia a financial pariah state, and the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental organisation that sets standards for combating dirty money, suspended Russia from membership in February.
Zelensky urges Nato to stop looking at the Kremlin
Zelensky urged the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) to stop looking at a weakened Kremlin in its deliberations on Ukraine’s membership and reiterated his country’s resolve to join the alliance as well as the European Union.
“It is absurd to look back at an incapable leader,” he said. “Even Russia’s internal forces have stopped looking back at the frail master of the Kremlin.”
Ukraine’s victory means liberation of all its territory and it will bring peace and security to countries like Moldova, Georgia and Belarus, Zelensky said in a televised speech to Parliament. Ukraine would not accept the war turning into any kind of frozen conflict with Russia, he added.
Kremlin calls report on mutiny plans ‘speculation’
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a New York Times report that a top Russian general, Sergei Surovikin, allegedly knew about Prigozhin’s plans for an insurrection was “speculation”, according to Interfax.
“Around these events, there’s a lot of different speculation, gossip and such,” the news service cited Peskov as saying. “I think this is one of those examples.”
Kremlin gets expressions of support from Bahrain
The Kremlin said Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa called Putin to express support for his leadership. It’s the latest in a string of statements the Kremlin has received in the last several days from its allies, including the leaders of Turkey, Qatar and Iran.
Uprising boosts support for more US arms to Ukraine
The 24-hour mutiny by mercenaries is likely to bolster those in Washington seeking to boost support for Ukraine’s war effort.
The failed rebellion by Prigozhin’s soldiers-for-hire against Russian government forces may spur bolder commitments from other Nato countries when their leaders gather next month in Vilnius, Lithuania, according to a person familiar with the Biden administration’s thinking. DM