A Change Of Plans. More Questions Than Answers

I’ll start today by paraphrasing the 1966 Buffalo Springfield song, For What It’s Worth: there’s something’s happening there, but what it is ain’t exactly clear. Yevgeny Progozhin’s Wagner Group, (which is basically a private “mercenary” army largely composed of freed Russian non-political prisoners), has turned on Vladimir Putin and the Russian military and is now reportedly marching on Moscow. That’s a thumbnail version, the situation is extremely dynamic and reliable reports out of the region are close to non-existent. I had other plans for today’s article’s subject matter but needless to say, that changed.

Like most in the West I’m anti-Putin. However, don’t start jumping for joy for Prigozhin. He is not exactly one of the good guys. (His nickname is Putin’s Chef.) This is more like a case of feuding mobsters than the Boy Scouts taking on the KKK. This is effectively a coup. Will it succeed? Who knows at this point?

Whatever the outcome and regardless of how long it plays out it will have impacts. Let’s briefly explore a few.

In Ukraine, at least in the near term, this is a good thing for the Ukrainians. They have just commenced their counteroffensive. The Wagner Group appeared to have been the most effective fighters the Russians had in Ukraine. Needless to say, they are no longer fighting Ukrainians. Also, some – and determining that number or more importantly what it will be in the future is at this point impossible – regular Russian troops have left Ukraine. The bottom line is that the Russians have less in military defense resources to deploy.

In the West, some of the pressure is off. Ukraine needs resources even faster than the West has made them available. The “deployment gap” now becomes less of a factor.

Despite sanctions, Russia still has business customers. The coup, assuming for this paragraph it is successful, will make little difference if any. Liken this to a mobster’s customer. They pay the bagman and if the bagman changes, they pay the new bagman.

What impact this will have in Russia is the largest question. If Prigozhin has initial success will other oligarchs join him in challenging Putin? Should he reach major population centers, most importantly Moscow, will the left wing (or the Russian version of it anyway) come out of the woodwork and rise up? They do not have military might, but at a later point (should we get there) numbers in the street will have an impact. How large is the “silent dissatisfaction” among the Russian people? How far will Putin go to stay in power? I’m of the school of thought that Putin ends in only one of two ways: his death or a successful coup.

Should Prigozhin be successful I predict Russia will pull out of Ukraine – Crimea is the question mark – and the oligarchs, who are really only interested in money and have been hurt by the sanctions, will go back to business as usual which was very personally profitable for them. As part of a peace settlement the Western sanctions will disappear.

Numbers don’t tell the entire story. Many “Davids” have defeated “Goliaths” over the centuries. However, keep in mind that the Wagner Group’s regional troop strength is estimated to only be 25,000. If they are to succeed, they will need supplementation.

All the above said I still have many more questions than answers and I hope this isn’t old news by too large a margin by publishing time let alone the time you get to read this. Stay tuned. I will.

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