The recent rebellion by president Putin’s trusted a protégé, the leader of the mercenary outfit the Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, about the botched up Russian invasion of Ukraine,
Has displayed the cracks in Mr Putin’s rule and raised concerns about a civil war in Russia, that has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. Until President Putin chose to initiate his ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine – since he expected to a short and swift campaign – his stature in geo-politics was a match to the leaders of the US and China, and larger at home having brought back stability in a country mismanaged in the post-Soviet era. It has shown to the world the cracks within Russia, but it’s unlikely to topple President Putin.
But the rebellion by the mercenaries of the Wagner group, who took over the township of Rostov-on- Don, and the public cheers that backed their advance to Moscow, clearly shook Kremlin. It was the biggest sign of defiance to Mr Putin, ever since the war in Ukraine had begun.
It is said that the orthodox church in Russia had prodded Putin to make Russia and empire again, and the capture of Ukraine, specially Keiv, would achieve that. Dictators often become victims of their delusion that surrounds them, and so Putin has been no different. And, whatever the excuses of US led NATO support to Ukraine, a year is a long enough period to take stock of what’s gone wrong for the mighty Russian forces.
Wagner mutiny, a wake up call
So, the Wagner mutiny was a much-needed wake up call. They are made up made up of crooks and criminals, who’ve done Mr. Putin’s bidding in Chechnya and Africa and are no doubt battle-hardened. But these mercenaries – that live off loot and plunder – should never have been deployed with Russia’s regular forces.
They aren’t trained to fight a classic military operation. As a thumb rule, mercenaries or even special forces cannot do what regular army unit can, and vice versa. For mercenaries conflicts are about making money and garnering the war booty that comes with it. In this in this case, the Wagner group were apparently paid or were guaranteed a much higher sum than the average Russian soldier, for its service. And in case of their death in battle, their kin would each receive as high as US $6000 or 5 million Russian rubles.
So, the question being: ‘why were they willing to turn their guns on to the paymasters in Kremlin?’ It’s said, their leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was fed up with the incompetence of Russian defence minister – Sergei Shoigu – and the military campaign was being stalled, even in East Ukraine where Russia had made gains. They have thus been relocated from the battle field Belarus – a satellite state of Russia -to house the Wagner group, perhaps to use them in the near future. What appears to be among the long list of Russia’s military blunders, the deployment of mercenaries with regular soldiers, is certainly in this long drawn-out war of attrition.
Moreover, the lack of a clear aim and an aim plus, with – until recently – no centralized military command, poor leadership, with little interaction between units fighting along-side each other, and expecting conscripts to be on the front lines, were some of their Russia’s short comings in Ukraine. A study of India’s campaign to liberate Bangladesh would have done Moscow’s commanders in Ukraine, a lot of good. Instead, their military operations in Ukraine look like their failed campaign in Afghanistan. Most importantly, Moscow failed to take into account an adversary determined to resist an invasion- like the Afghans or even the Russians against Hitler’s invasion- cannot be beaten into submission or surrender.
But even now, Mr. Putin has the chance to make a face-saving exit from Ukraine by offering a truce, that’ll allow Russia to hold on to the captured territories in Ukraine. With the Europeans fed up with the war, perhaps a division of Ukraine – along the Dnieper river – as was done in Germany after World War 2, could be one solution. This would not only give Mr. Putin the buffer with West Europe and NATO, that was his original aim, and a face saver. The bigger question is whether the US would accept a ceasefire, since the US is the biggest beneficiary of this war.
Its arms sales to EU have multiplied manifold and allowed the US to regain its lost global stature – and as NATO’s leader – after its shabby exit from Afghanistan. The US apart, China has gained in many ways. It now has Russia as an ally against the US and its partners, to challenge America’s efforts to counter China’s ambitions with Russian military and space know how, and oil & gas supplies, to become the most powerful challenge to the free world by 2050.
With the Europeans fed up with the war, perhaps a division of Ukraine – along the Dnieper river – as was done in Germany after World War 2, could be one solution.
And on the issue of an immediate ceasefire, India could offer to play the role of an honest broker, to bring the conflict to an end, as New Delhi enjoys the goodwill and the confidence of both, Washington and Moscow. At a time when the UNSC has proved to be ineffective in stopping the war in Ukraine, India could play that role, in ending the war in Ukraine.
The growing Indo-US strategic ties – with defense, high technology and trade arrangements – and as Moscow needs its traditional defense market that India provides, and now for its oil and energy products also, such an initiative by New Delhi, would make India an honest mediator in a conflict which the world has got exhausted with, and doesn’t seem to find any answers to. For India this could be a turning point for New Delhi’s standing in geopolitics. It would give India the most important geopolitical role that it could possibly have in these times, and answer Mr. Modi’s repeated assertions that India deserves to play a bigger role in the geopolitics.
-This story earlier appeared on www.tribuneindia.com