Facing His Biggest Threat, Putin Couldn't Act

'Washington Post' reports he seemed unable to make decisions as Yevgeny Prigozhin advanced
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 25, 2023 9:39 AM CDT
Amid His Biggest Threat, Vladimir Putin Froze
A file photo of Yevgeny Prigozhin, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin from 2010.   (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

Last month, the world watched the seemingly unthinkable spectacle of Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin advancing to within 120 miles of Moscow before turning his tanks around. How on earth did his forces move so easily through Russian towns? As the Washington Post reports in a new assessment of the near-coup, it was because Vladimir Putin "was paralyzed and unable to act decisively." The analysis, based on interviews with security officials in Europe and Ukraine, reports that Putin had at least two days' warning of Prighozin's potential rebellion—and did nothing to stop it. "Then when it began to happen, there was paralysis on all levels," says one of the unnamed European officials. "There was absolute dismay and confusion. For a long time, they did not know how to react."

Local officials in those towns overrun by the powerful Wagner forces received no instructions from the Kremlin on what to do. "From our point of view, this is the biggest sign of the unhealthy situation inside Russia," a Ukrainian official tells the Post. "The authoritarian system is formed in such a way that without a very clear command from the leadership, people don't do anything." For the record, a Kremlin spokesperson rejects all of the above as "nonsense." But CIA chief William Burns said much the same last week at the Aspen Security Forum, as Politico recounted.

"What it resurrected was some deeper questions ... about Putin's judgment, about his relative detachment from events, and even about his indecisiveness," Burns said, adding that it "exposed some of the significant weaknesses in a system that Putin has built." That system might be described as cronyism and one of rival clans battling each other, per the Post. Putin and Prigozhin have known each other for decades, and Prigozhin's "clan" has grown extremely powerful. "Russia is a country of mafia rules, and Putin made an unforgivable mistake," a Moscow financier tells the Post. "He lost his reputation as the toughest man in town." Still, Burns cautioned against underestimating him and suggested Prigozhin might yet get his comeuppance. (More Vladimir Putin stories.)

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