A sudden uprising in Russia was over too fast to have any immediate impact on the war in Ukraine, but it exposed a fragility in Moscow that Kyiv will seek to exploit, experts have said.
They noted that the rebellion itself, by the head of a mercenary group, was actually a by-product of President Vladimir Putin’s bungled decision to invade in the first place – the ultimate unintended consequence of an operation that was meant to make him stronger.
Had the mutiny by Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner private army lasted more than one day, it may even have forced Putin to abandon his war in Ukraine to battle an insurrection at home, according to one senior Ukrainian MP.
However, with the coup now over, “there will be no big changes on the battlefield in the very short term”, said Oleksiy Goncharenko.
Yet it still “shows how fragile Russia is and at any moment it could collapse, so yes, I think that this makes us closer to our victory”.
Prigozhin’s outburst was the climax of a long-running feud with Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defence minister, and General Valery Gerasimov, the head of the armed forces.
The Wagner chief accused them of incompetence over the war effort and claimed their soldiers had killed his men in Ukraine even though they are meant to be on the same side.
In a series of audio and video messages posted on social media, he went further, implicitly attacking Putin for the first time, by accusing Moscow of lying about their justification for the entire Ukraine war.
Yuriy Sak, an adviser to the Ukrainian defence minister, said: “We were always saying that Russia as an empire built on lies will sooner or later implode.
“So, something tells me that what happened yesterday is probably just the beginning of a larger self-destruction of this empire of evil, and of course what makes Russia weaker, makes us stronger and brings our victory closer.”
The sight of Wagner mercenaries – many of them convicts who brought carnage to Ukraine – turning on Putin’s own military was a welcome boost for morale among Ukrainian forces, according to the MP.
And while the infighting may not have affected the tempo of Russian operations on the ground, it pointed to divisions within the ranks – and new opportunities for Ukraine.
“I think now Ukraine has a very good window of opportunity to do something,” Mr Goncharenko said.
“How we will exploit, how successfully, we will see next several weeks,” he said.
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Analysts said the turmoil in Russia should prompt Western allies to ramp up supplies of weapons to Ukraine to give President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s forces the best chance of taking advantage of the situation.
Keir Giles, a senior consulting fellow at the Chatham House think tank, said Putin’s domestic woes should also silence any talk in the West of Ukraine needing to reach some kind of accommodation with the Kremlin.
“Russia can be defeated and the obvious thing to do now is increase the support to Ukraine and give Ukraine what it needs to bring about that defeat now it has been shown just how weak Russia really is,” he said.
Whatever happens next in Russia, Ukraine must keep on fighting.
“Unfortunately, Ukrainian victory is possible only in the situation where Ukraine will do this job,” said Alina Frolova, a former deputy defence minister in Ukraine.
“But that will facilitate [the] destruction which [has] started in Russia, and I think it will go faster and faster.”