Much of the western analysis of the events in Russia last weekend has concluded that Vladimir Putin displayed his weakness by allowing Yevgeny Prigozhin and other Wagner group commanders to depart peacefully for Belarus, and the rank-and-file to join the Russian army or retire to their homes. Of course, if Putin had in fact crushed the revolt by force and executed its leaders, commentators would have used this as more evidence of his brutality and ruthlessness, and perhaps also of the innate savagery and violence of the Russian national tradition.
These conclusions are coloured by an understandable dislike of the Russian leader, and they do not constitute sober and objective analysis. In fact, though Putin was obviously responsible for creating the background to this mess, we should consider the possibility that at the weekend he handled things well. In his address to the nation on Saturday morning, he displayed determination and resolve. Putin made clear that he had no intention of surrendering to Prigozhin’s demands, and that if he and the other Wagner leaders continued their revolt, they would be charged with treason (and, by implication, probably executed).
Since it also quickly became apparent that there was going to be no mutiny in support of Wagner within the regular army, Prigozhin was faced with the choice of an attack on Moscow that would almost certainly have led to the slaughter of his men and his own death, or a surrender on terms. In these circumstances, Putin had nothing to gain by seeking violent revenge, which would have killed large numbers of Russians and badly undermined the Russian war in Ukraine. He had everything to gain by showing magnanimity. He had, after all, won.
In addition, a key reason why Putin did not act much sooner to suppress Prigozhin and end his feud with the Russian high command was precisely that for more than a year, Russian domestic propaganda had built up an image of the Wagner fighters as Russian military heroes. Their slaughter would not have gone down well with ordinary Russians.
Read the full piece in The Guardian.