Prigozhin’s mutiny has left many unanswered questions, leading The Bell to consult Russian political scientist Grigory Golosov for insight into its political implications.
- Contrary to what many Western commentators say, Golosov argues that Wagner’s mutiny is not a "crushing blow" for Putin. Instead, Golosov suggests that Putin resolved a longstanding issue concerning Prigozhin. As head of the Wagner Group, Prigozhin had political aspirations and developed a populist political narrative — he claimed that the ruling class was ineffective, corrupt, and unconcerned about the people and the Russian state. Although Prigozhin was unlikely to run in next year’s presidential election, he had earned a reputation as an effective military leader and a political figure.
- Golosov does not believe the mutiny was an attempted military coup. Prigozhin stated that he aimed to force change in the Russian Defense Ministry, which would have significantly increased his influence on the military establishment and Putin. While Putin may recognize the failings of defense minister Sergei Shoigu and general Valery Gerasimov, he values their loyalty. Golosov says that the mutiny could be considered a "split in the elite" only in a broad sense, as Prigozhin stood apart from the majority of Russia's ruling class.
- According to Golosov, the mutiny will not hinder Putin's ability to rebuild his image in Russia. Only a small, politically motivated segment of Russian society criticizes the country’s political leadership, so there is little change in public opinion. Meanwhile, Golosov disagrees with the notion that it was humiliating for Putin to seek help from Lukashenko. He asserts that Putin views Lukashenko as a junior partner and sees it as normal within Russian business and political logic for the junior partner to assist the senior in resolving problems.
- Prigozhin could not be dealt with earlier due to Wagner Group's significant role on the frontline in Ukraine. The outfit’s mercenaries played a decisive role in capturing Bakhmut, for example. However, Golosov believes that revenge may be taken against Prigozhin, as Putin famously "cannot forgive betrayal."
Why the world should care
Russian propaganda attempts to portray Prigozhin as a traitor who serves the interests of "Russia's enemies." However, it appears that initially, the mutiny played into Putin's hands, allowing him to rid himself of a political problem that had plagued him since the invasion of Ukraine.