What will follow in Russia’s military after the Wagner PMC uprising? Putin ended Prigoshin’s mutiny without bloodshed

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By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

On June 24rd a mutiny that had been initiated by the chairman of the private Wagner militias (PMC) ended within 24 hours with no blood being shed. Jewgenij Prigoschin had begun his mutiny by occupying the city of Rostov at the Don in the night of June 23rd, announcing that he intended to march onto Moscow with the aim to replace the Putin regime and the “corrupt” military leadership. For almost 24 hours the entire world became witness of a dramatic escalation. The Russian president in the morning addressed the Russian citizens, the personnel of the Armed Forces, law enforcement agencies and security services, the soldiers  and “commanders who are now fighting in their combat positions, repulsing enemy attacks.” He also addressed those who through “deceit or threats” had been pushed “onto the path of a grave crime – an armed mutiny.”  He underlined that “the entire military, economic, economic and informational machine of the West is directed against us, we are fighting for the lives and security of our people, for our sovereignty and independence, for the right to be and remain Russia, a state with a thousand- year history.”

The president made an appeal for “unity”, stating that “any actions, that split our nation are essentially a betrayal of our people, of our comrades- in- arms who are fighting at the frontline. This is a knife in the back of our country and our people.” He compared the situation to Russia in “1917 when the country was fighting in World War I. But the victory was stolen from it: intrigues, squabbles and politicking behind the backs of the army and the nation turned into the greatest turmoil, the destruction of the army and the collapse of the state, and the loss of vast territories, ultimately leading to the tragedy of the civil war. (…) Russians were killing Russians and brothers were killing brothers, while all sorts of political adventurers and foreign forces profited from the situation by tearing the country apart to divide it. We will not allow this to happen again. We will protect our people and our statehood from any threats, including from internal betrayal.”

In the evening of June 24 the mutiny ended with Russian government speaker Peskov declaring that Prigoschin, after having negotiated the whole day with Belarus President Lukaschenko (which Putin was informed about), had ordered his troops back since “he didn’t want to shed Russian blood.( …)No punitive actions will be carried out against Prigoschin,” Peskov said and “guarantees would be given to his soldiers” while Prigoschin would go to Belarus. According to CNN and several other press outlets, that referred to an article in “Washington Post”, the US Secret Service had been informed about Prigoschin’ s Insurrection plans since Mid- June, but kept the information secret. One of the reasons given was that Washington had been concerned about who would control Russia’s nuclear weapons, as well as about the danger of a potential civil war.  What was however also astonishing was that the US government announced, they would abstain from “sanctions” which they had originally wanted to impose on Prigoschin.

Irrespective of the flow of commentaries in the Western press, whose “narrative” is that the mutiny is further proof of Putin’s “eroding power”, the situation remains quite dangerous, since nobody can clearly say in which direction events may evolve. The question: Who will benefit from this mutiny and who is actively pushing for “regime change” is therefore more important than “rejoicing” about the “weakening of Putin”, as some “Westerners” did in the recent days.

In midst of the weekend chaos it is noteworthy that Turkish President Erdogan, aside leading representatives from China as well as leaders from Central Asia and many others, that had discussed with Putin, reacted “reasonably,” rather than “banalizing” the Russian debate and the issue of use of “nuclear weapons“. It is noteworthy that FM Jean Asselborn from Luxemburg on June 27th was the only one warning on the background of an emergency EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Brussels, that Russia has the biggest nuclear arsenal and that it would be dangerous to try to split Russia. The state of mind of the West is, if one looks at the various summits  and events during the last two weeks (especially the informal one in Copenhagen June 24/25, that was attended by Victoria Nuland and representatives from the Global South , in order to discuss the Ukraine peace plan, illustrate the “zealousness” on the side of some NATO countries, that are doubling their efforts  to “arm-twist” countries from the Global South, so as to break their “solidarity” with Russia on the issue of sanctions.

Jeffrey Sachs attacking a small “cabal” in the US government 

An American critical voice that could be heard in the recent two weeks was from Prof. Jeffrey Sachs who in a discussion in Vienna June 13th, in which he commented about the Ukraine conflict, launched a devastating critique against the US, underlining that approximately 900 officials (Prof Mearsheimer once identified them as “Blob” in order to describe the “deep state” of the US that is influencing the US government and think tanks and that has the say concerning the Ukraine policy.) Each dissenting voice (including Sachs’ offers to WAPO and NYT, to write a personal commentary and correct the official view about the war, were rejected.)  According to Sachs President Biden not once “had any telephone discussion with President Putin since February 24th 2022“(!). He further emphasized how everything was done before the conflict broke out, to “derail” the Minsk agreement that had been voted for in favor by the UN Security Council  and that Putin’s draft for a US- Russia security agreement, which was presented on 17 December 2021, had been brutally rejected by the US government.

Sachs emphasized that “Russia has not been defeated and I believe that Russia would escalate on a nuclear level if there were existential threats to Russia.” Russia has 1600 nuclear weapons including tactical ones, he said. “And if Russia were to lose, I would be terrified.” He referred to the Washington Post which reported that Biden has decided that he can ignore all “red lines”. “This is gambling with Armageddon,” said Sachs.

He particularly emphasized that it was the US, after Biden had won the presidential elections, that wanted the Ukraine to be in NATO.  Well known US diplomats like William Perry or George Kennan had on the other side warned of NATO expansion and stated that those who push for it, are playing with nuclear missiles.

The danger of gambling with nuclear Armageddon

On June 13th Prof S. Karaganov (Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the “Council on Foreign and Defense Policy” as well as Dean of the Higher School of Economics and former advisor to President Putin), in reaction to the escalating war efforts by the US and NATO in Ukraine, drew a “red line,” by outlining some very provocative and shocking thoughts about a  “preemptive nuclear strike”, if Russia was confronted with an existential threat. In his article he explained that his thoughts took their final shape after the recent 31rst assembly of the “Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.”

In his article Prof. Karaganov develops the thesis whereby “it becomes increasingly clear that a clash with the West cannot ‘end’ and even if we win a partial or even crushing victory in Ukraine.”  The most important but almost undiscussed issue, which is the underlying   and even fundamental cause of the conflict in Ukraine and many other tensions in the world, as well as the overall growth of the threat of war, is:  1.  the “accelerating failure of the modern ruling Western elites … who were generated by the globalization course of recent decades. This failure is accompanied by rapid changes, unprecedented in global history, in the global balance of power in favor of the global majority, with China and partly India as its economic drivers, and Russia chosen by history to be its military – strategic pillar.(…) This weakening infuriates not only the imperial – cosmopolitan elites (Biden and Co.) but also the imperial- national ones (Trump). Their countries are losing their five century long ability to syphon wealth around the world, imposing primarily by brute force, political and economic orders and cultural dominance.”

According to Karaganov: “The United States has turned the Ukraine into a striking fist intended to create a crisis and thus tie the hands of Russia- the military- political core of the non- western world, which is freeing itself from the shackles of neo colonialism”. They see that it is better still to blow it up, thus radically weakening the rising alternative superpower -China. The problem he points at is that “the weakened US unleashed a conflict to finish off Europe and other dependent countries, intending to throw them into the flames of confrontation after Ukraine. They (Europeans) are obediently leading their countries to the slaughter. And given the loss of strategic culture and centuries old Russo-phobia, their hatred is even deeper than that of the United States.(…) This vector of the West’s movement unambiguously indicates a slide towards World War III. It is already beginning and may erupt into a full blown firestorm by chance or due to the growing incompetence and irresponsibility of modern ruling circles in the West.”

Karaganov comments that in 75 years of relative peace, people seem to have forgotten the horrors of war and even stopped fearing nuclear weapons. Having studied in depth the history of nuclear strategy and being known to many strategic and military experts in the West, with whom such issues were discussed and negotiated in detail in the past, Karaganov’s main argument is that the creation of nuclear weapons was result of divine intervention. “God handed a weapon of Armageddon to humanity to remind those who had lost the fear of hell that it existed. It was this fear that ensured relative peace for the last three quarters of a century. That fear is gone now. What is happening now is unthinkable in accordance with previous ideas about nuclear deterrence: in a fit of desperate rage, the ruling circles of a group of countries have unleashed a full scale war in the underbelly of a nuclear country.”(!)

According to Karaganov “ that fear needs to be revived, otherwise humanity is doomed.” “What is being decided on the battlefield in Ukraine is not only, and not so much, what Russia and the future world order will look like, but mainly whether there will be any world at all or the planet will turn into radioactive ruins poisoning the remains of humanity.” Hence his emphasis: “ By breaking the West’s will to continue the aggression, we will not only save ourselves and finally free the world from the five- century long Western yoke, but we will also save humanity. By pushing the West towards a catharsis and thus its elites towards abandoning their striving for hegemony, we will force them to back down before a global catastrophe occurs, thus avoiding it. Humanity will get a new chance for development.”

With this “verbal hand grenade” thrown into the present geostrategic confrontation, Karaganov essentially argues in favor for a return to the policy of nuclear deterrence, based on the concept of “mutually assured destruction” (or “balance of terror”) “We will have to make nuclear deterrence a convincing argument again by lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons set unacceptably high and by rapidly but prudently moving up the deterrence – escalation ladder.” He adds that the first steps have already been made by the relevant statements of Russian President and other leaders: the announced deployment of nuclear weapons and their carriers in Belarus, and the increased combat readiness of strategic deterrence force… There are many steps on this ladder. Things may also get to the point when we will have to urge our compatriots and all people of goodwill to leave their places of residence near facilities that may become targets for strikes in countries that provide direct support to the puppet regime in Kiev.(…)The enemy must know that we are ready to deliver a “preemptive strike” in retaliation for all of its current and past acts of aggression in order to prevent a slide into global thermonuclear war.”  And he notes that both the U.S. and Europe know this very well, they just prefer not to think about it and he reminds the period in which Washington only considered the possibility of nuclear weapons against advancing” soviet troops in Western Europe itself and he remembered: “I know that Chancellor Kohl and Schmidt fled their bunkers as soon as the question of such use came up during military exercises.”

President Putin and his reflections about nuclear strike  

In reference to the above mentioned Prof. Karaganov essay it is worthwhile to point to a discussion that took place during the plenary session of the St. Petersburg Economic Forum (14-17th of June) with President Putin and the Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on the podium,  discussing with the Moderator Dimitri Simes (Russian- American author, former President and CEO of the “Center for National Interest”, Washington). At one point Simes in reference to the intense debate that takes place in various expert circles about the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons, spoke about Putin’s own encounter and discussion that he had in the past with  American experts like James Schlesinger, former Secretary of Defense, Brent Scowcroft former NSC advisor- i.e. “those people that had been primarily responsible for the development of a US limited nuclear strike concept in the 1970ies,  in the event of an advance of soviet tanks in  Europe;  tactical nuclear weapons they said were not only effective under certain conditions but also a valid part of nuclear  deterrence.”  President Putin was asked by him what he would think about that. At first Putin said, he would reject it; that it is certainly theoretically possible to use nuclear weapons this way. But he added: “For Russia it is possible if there is a threat to our territorial integrity (!), independence and sovereignty, an existential threat to the Russian state.” He further said that Russia has more such nuclear weapons than NATO countries and pointed out that by the end of this year “we will complete this work of placing nuclear warheads on Belarussian territory. This is an element of deterrence so that everyone who thinks of inflicting a strategic defeat on us should keep this circumstance in mind. (…) I have already said that the use of ultimate deterrent is only possible in case of a threat to the Russian state. In this case, we will certainly use all the forces and means at the disposal of the Russian State. There is no doubt about that. But I would like to remind everyone that the only country in the world that has used nuclear weapons against a non- nuclear state is the United States, which has delivered two strikes at cities in Japan: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They thought they had the right to do that. The precedent was created by the United States.”

Articles like the recent one written by Prof Karaganov, as shocking as they are, should be used as a starting point, to reignite a serious debate about the “nuclear doctrine” and the concept of “mutually assured destruction”- i.e. taken as an opportunity to discuss a reasonable peace options between the US and Russia.

In the alternative German blog “Nachdenkseiten“ June 26th,  a recent article written by former head of the German SPD  Oskar Lafontaine got commented: Lafontaine had essentially argued that never the danger of nuclear war had never been so acute as it is  today. While think tanks begin to think the unthinkable and plead for further rearmament and escalation spiral, he argued that it is time to think about the “concept of disengagement”. He referred to the Cuban missile crisis (1962) which brought the world close to the nuclear abyss. It was Soviet General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev and US President John F. Kennedy who brought the world out of this abyss, by agreeing that the USSR would take out its nuclear missiles from Cuba and that in turn the US would take its nuclear missiles out of Turkey. The article pleads for a return to the policy of “disengagement” of the blocks and it adds an important observation, namely that while saying that the “Almighty gave humanity the weapon of Armageddon in order to show those who lost their fears of hell, that it does exist, he (Karaganov) should also take into account, that the Almighty also gave humanity the love for your Next and the capacity of reason, in order to escape hell. The restart of a policy of “disengagement” would indeed mark a “turning point.” During the discussion in Vienna Prof Jeffery Sachs made reference to the Cuban Missile crisis, in particular to the excellent, historic speech that had been given by former US President John F-Kennedy June 10, 1963 (5 month before he was killed), after an agreement had been reached with Khrushchev. In his  speech  at the Campus of the American University in Washington, Kennedy had urged the US and Soviet government to sit down and discuss about how to implement peace.

Written June 27 2023

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