After a weekend of chaos, I’m beginning to understand why the national symbol of Russia is the double-headed eagle: two heads facing in opposite directions.
First, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner group, says he is ready to “go all the way” in his rebellion against the Russian army. He then makes a sudden U-turn and orders his fighters to return to his base.
In a television address, President Vladimir Putin declares the rebellion “a criminal adventure…a serious crime…treason…blackmail and terrorism.” However, just hours later, as part of a deal with Prigozhin, it is revealed that all criminal charges against the leader of the Wagner group will be dropped.
So much for a “serious crime.”
The mixed messages from the Kremlin leader have drawn attention in Russia and have changed perceptions of President Putin.
“It definitely looks weaker,” says Konstantin Remchukov, owner and editor-in-chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
“You can’t make a public statement that these people are criminals and then, on the same day, at the end of the day, have your press secretary disagree with you and say, ‘No, those people have not violated the penal code. ‘” he maintains.
Russia’s former economic development minister Andrei Nechaev makes a similar comment.
In a social media post, Nechaev argues: “The law has lost all power. Even serious crimes will not be punished according to political expediency. In the morning, you may be declared a traitor. In the evening, you may be pardoned and the criminal case against you is dismissed.”
“The country is clearly on the threshold of a great change,” he adds.
Big change? Bold prediction. But if change is coming, could Wagner’s rebellion be the trigger? An agreement may have been reached and the riot called off. But the fact that the uprising happened before Putin’s eyes is embarrassing for the president, who is also commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces.
And one thing to keep in mind: Putin’s current presidential term ends next year.
“All elite groups are now starting to think about the 2024 presidential election,” Remchukov predicts. “They will wonder if they should trust Vladimir Putin, as they have been up until this military coup.”
“Or should they think of someone new who is able to deal with problems in a more contemporary way?” he says.
“Someone new” for the presidency is not something you normally hear the Russian elite discuss openly. That doesn’t mean a changing of the guard at the Kremlin is imminent. If Vladimir Putin has perfected anything after 23 years in power, it is the art of political survival.
But his decision last year to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine has triggered widespread instability within his own country: economic woes, drone attacks on Russian regions, shelling of Russian border areas near Ukraine, cross-border raids on Russia by saboteur groups and now an armed uprising by the Wagner group.
All this increases the pressure on the Kremlin leader.
However, President Putin cannot be expected to admit that he was wrong. Admitting mistakes and miscalculations is not his style.
So what will the Russian president’s next move be? A clue, perhaps, came in the latest edition of the Russian state television Sunday night news program. Reporting on the Wagner uprising, the presenter played an excerpt from an old interview with Putin.
“Are you able to forgive?”
“Yes. But not everything.”
“What can’t you forgive?”
I wonder if Yevgeny Prigozhin was watching.
Remember that you can receive notifications from BBC Mundo. Download the new version of our app and activate them so you don’t miss out on our best content.
BBC-NEWS-SRC: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-internacional-65868877, IMPORTING DATE: 2023-06-26 11:50:08
BBC Russia Editor, Moscow
#Russian #groups #trust #Putin #elections