Ukraine celebrates chaos in Russia, seeing it as a sign of Putin’s weakness

‘The longer Russia keeps its troops and mercenaries on our land, the more chaos, pain and problems it will have,’ President Zelenskiy warned

Guerra en Ucrania
Members of the emergency services, in a 25-storey building damaged during a Russian bombardment of Kiev, in which three people were killed on Saturday.Andrew Kravchenko (AP)
Luis de Vega

The conflict between Yevgeny Prigozhin – head of the Wagner mercenary group – and the highest echelons of power in the Kremlin has been welcomed with relief by Ukraine. The government in Kyiv sees this not only as a sign of internal weakness, but also as a clash that will have direct consequences for the invasion of Ukrainian territory.

“Russia’s weakness is obvious,” said President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Saturday, just before the Wagner group announced that it was withdrawing and advancing towards Moscow. “The longer Russia keeps its troops and mercenaries on our land, the more chaos, pain and problems it will have.”

However, after Prigozhin backtracked and announced that his mercenaries would halt their march to Moscow and return to Ukraine, President Zelenskiy released another statement: “Today, the world saw that the bosses of Russia do not control anything. Nothing at all. Complete chaos. Complete absence of any predictability.” He then added a message to Putin: “The longer your troops stay on Ukrainian land, the more devastation they will bring to Russia. The longer this person is in the Kremlin, the more disasters there will be.”

Before these messages were released, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba made an appeal to those who have aligned themselves with Moscow. On Twitter, he wrote: “Those who said Russia was too strong to lose: look now. Time to abandon false neutrality and fear of escalation; give Ukraine all the needed weapons; forget about friendship or business with Russia. Time to put an end to the evil everyone despised but was too afraid to tear down.”

Tension has risen inside Russia at a time when Ukrainian forces are concentrating on the counteroffensive they launched three weeks ago, to recapture Russian-occupied territory. The counteroffensive also coincided with the explosive announcement that was made by the controversial Prigozhin, who briefly announced that he was withdrawing his men. Ukrainian authorities and analysts now see that the events unleashed on the other side of the border are of no benefit to Russian troop movements. In any case, the war is continuing – three people died in Kyiv on Saturday after the latest Russian bombardment hit the capital.

“Today, Ukraine has come a few steps closer to complete victory over Russia and the complete return of its territories, including Crimea,” said Anton Gerashenko – an adviser to the Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs – in comments made on his social media accounts. “This is a rebellion, not just against the war criminals Shoigu and Gerasimov (heads of the Russian Ministry of Defense), but against Putin himself, whose place Prigozhin has always wanted to take to create his own regime in Russia,” he added.

Zelenskiy’s entourage is closely following the evolution of the internal Russian crisis. “Everything has just started in Russia,” says Mykhailo Podolyak, the president’s main adviser. He has stressed that it’s not possible for the Kremlin and Yevgeny Prigozhin – a billionaire and controversial businessman, who was once Putin’s friend – to save themselves from defeat. Andriy Yermak – head of the Office of the President of Ukraine – noted that “a Russian civil war was the only plausible outcome of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. History shows us that all dictators eventually collapse under the weight of their contradictions and arrogance.”

Prigozhin’s short-lived uprising suggests that Moscow will be forced to look more towards its own territory and less towards Ukraine. Anything that diverts attention from the goal that the Russian president set for himself with his full-scale invasion is received almost like a blessing by the Ukrainians. That the disagreements between Prigozhin, Putin and the Russian Ministry of Defense have blown up is not just an internal Russian conflict – it has direct consequences on the current war situations, as the authorities in Kyiv acknowledge.

“A win-win scenario” for Ukraine

In a country like Russia, where dissent and opposition is dangerous, Prigozhin is shedding light on underlying doubts about the military campaign in Ukraine and internal differences over Putin’s imperialist plans. This is according to Oleksandr Slyvchuk, a Ukrainian political analyst at the Transatlantic Dialogue Center, a think tank based in Kyiv.

Slyvchuk believes that the head of the mercenaries – who frequently records videos on his phone and sends challenging messages from areas of Ukraine where his men are deployed – appears as a character more aware of reality than the upper echelons of power in the Kremlin. He notes that “Prigozhin is more connected with normal people, with the soldiers in the trenches,” who are faced with “the corrupt structure” made up of the commanders. The heads of the Ministry of Defense are incapable of understanding the “real situation on the battlefield.”

“That an internal civil conflict opens in Russia” places Ukraine in a “win-win situation.” The analyst notes that it will force Moscow to focus on “its own problems and not so much on invading its neighbors.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian social media is celebrating the events in the neighboring country. Jokes, memes, reactions and videos depict Wagner’s mercenaries taking up positions in the streets and even going to fast food establishments to order hamburgers, in full gear.

Slyvchuk believes that, at the moment, it’s not easy to predict how the conflict could evolve and if it could ultimately lead to the fall of Putin. He does affirm, however, that this is a serious open crisis with an uncertain end. “I don’t believe Prigozhin will achieve victory, because Russia is a huge body and he looks more like a rebel. [But] just the fact that some of the [regular Russian] soldiers don’t oppose and don’t resist Prigozhin shows that they aren’t complying with the orders of the Russian Defense Ministry,” the analyst explains. This is demonstrated, according to him, by some videos “in which it is seen that [Russian soldiers] don’t touch the Wagner Group’s vehicles, although that should be their duty.” The fact that a Wagner convoy was bombed shows that “Russia has lost control of its internal situation” and has crossed some “red lines.” However, he concludes, one cannot yet expressly speak of a civil war.

Gerashenko believes, however, that this attack is a setup by the businessman himself. He thinks that if Progozhin truly posed a threat, the Russian authorities would have chosen to eliminate him directly and not given him a chance to order an uprising. “I’m convinced that this provocation was organized by Prigozhin himself, because there was no point in Shoigu and Gerasimov attacking just one of the dozens of military camps of the Wagner military group,” says the adviser to Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs.

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