We do not know. We do not know either what Vladimir Putin was able to offer Yevgeny Prigozhin to convince him to halt his march on Moscow or what security guarantees this putschist was able to obtain for himself and his men. What we do know, however, is what did not happen on 24 June, and therein lies the crux of the matter, in the accumulation of anomalies that point to the weakening of the Russian President.

First of all, faced with mutineers who had come to seize their headquarters, the Russian generals and officers at the command centre in Rostov should normally have put up fierce resistance. They did not do so, and this eagerness not to fight revealed a refusal to die for a President whose aura had been lost, and revealed even the hope that his reign would come to an end.

The gravity of the situation should have prompted the immediate mobilisation of the nearest troops, those on the Ukrainian front, but no order came from the Kremlin. As if he feared that his soldiers might fraternise with the mutineers, Vladimir Putin simply went on television to denounce, inexpressively and rigidly, a “stab in the back” and the danger of “civil war”. This man, who had once been heard to promise to chase the Chechens up to their backyard toilets, did not issue an ultimatum to Yevgeny Prigozhin, did not order any military intervention, not even a pre-positioning, and did not call for a popular mobilisation as Wagner’s contingents advanced towards Moscow at breakneck speed.

In this way, he gave the impression that he was less afraid of the mutineers than of the support they might arouse in the army and the population. As if he did not want anyone to see that the military and civilians were turning their backs on him, Vladimir Putin is not asking for their support but is instead seeking the support of the Kazakh and Belarusian presidents, through whom he wants to start negotiations with the putschist who has just pledged to overthrow him.

This is more than an admission of weakness, it is an absolute disgrace, but the President no longer has a choice because, apart from the General Sourovikine, the executioner of Aleppo, no one stands up on his side. Silence from the General Staff, silence from the FSB, silence from friendly capitals, silence from the government and particularly from the Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs. The silence is deafening, and it is in this absolute solitude of a Russian president who everyone is turning away from that Alexander Lukashenko agrees to act as intermediary.

Unlike the President of Kazakhstan, the Belarussian President had resigned himself to do this because he knows that if Vladimir Putin falls, he will fall too. The negotiations will last until early evening. We can only assume that Vladimir Putin and his former henchman have both told themselves that there was bound to be a loser in their confrontation and that a bad deal is better than a certain risk.

It remains to be seen how their deal will pan out, but while Yevgeny Prigozhin has put down a marker , Vladimir Putin must now exclude many of the men who did not support him on Saturday and, above all, try to make Russia, Ukraine and the world forget the weakness he was unable to hide. This President has not fallen, but he is now walking a tightrope.

 

The article is also available in French, German, and Hungarian on Bernard Guetta’s website.