Few Russians Wanted the War in Ukraine – But They Won’t Accept a Russian Defeat Either

It is highly probable that we will never know precisely how or why Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, was killed. It is also highly probable that he was assassinated, most likely on the orders of Vladimir Putin, but possibly on the orders of his enemies in the Russian defence ministry, who had probably been dreaming of this moment for a long time and believed they could finally kill him with impunity.

Most western commentary on the assassination has focused on the fear of Putin that Prigozhin’s death will cause among the Russian elites, or on the underlying fragility it reveals in the Russian regime.

This is not wholly wrong, but it misses several longstanding fears that are widespread within the Russian establishment – and indeed in the wider Russian population – that will influence how events play out: fear of defeat, chaos and of each other. What really worried most members of the elite was Putin’s failure to act much earlier to end the public feud between Prigozhin and the Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, and that Prigozhin’s armed demonstration risked a catastrophic internal split in Russia, leading to defeat in Ukraine.

The outcome of the war is central to everyone’s thinking. To judge by the recent failures of Ukrainian offensive operations, if the Russian regime and state remain united the Russian army stands a good chance of defending its existing lines. From conversations I’ve had, it appears that a large majority of elite and ordinary Russians would accept a ceasefire along the present battle lines and would not mount any challenge if Putin proposed or agreed to such a ceasefire and presented it as a sufficient Russian victory.

Read the full piece in The Guardian.