KYIV, Ukraine — The armed rebellion against the Russian military may have been over in less than 24 hours, but the disarray within the enemy’s ranks was an unexpected gift and timely morale booster for Ukrainian troops
The spectacle of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny in the critical military command and control hub in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, and later Russia’s scramble to fortify Moscow as troops marched to upend the country’s military leadership was greeted “with applause” by commanders of Ukraine’s Eastern Group of Forces, said its spokesman, Serhii Cherevatiy.
A video of well-known Ukrainian drone commander “Magyar” watching the revolt while eating enormous amounts of popcorn went viral. A plethora of gleeful memes mocking Russian leader Vladimir Putin inundated social media, and statement after statement from Ukraine’s top brass described the turmoil as a sure sign of more instability to come.
The debacle appears to be resolved, for now, with Prigozhin’s exile to Belarus in a deal mediated by Minsk. But for Ukrainians watching, the damage was done: Russian vulnerabilities were exposed, and by agreeing to concessions hours after branding Prigozhin a back-stabbing traitor, Putin appeared weak and desperate.
The short-lived rebellion did not noticeably affect Russian army posture along the 1,000 kilometer front line in eastern Ukraine, but it could give Ukraine the impetus it needs to intensify its counteroffensive, which military leaders have admitted is going slower than expected.
“In the short term, it distracted attention from the war and diverted some resources from the front,” said Nigel Gould-Davies, a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Affairs. But in the longer term, he said, it shows lack of unity among Russia’s fighting forces. “It’s terrible for Russia’s morale. The officers and soldiers alike. It’s very good for Ukraine’s morale.”
As Wagner troops marched toward Moscow, Hanna Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, announced progress in several directions along the front line where fighting has been raging for weeks, and that Russian advances further north were thwarted.
“The enemy’s weakness is always a window of opportunity, it allows us to take the advantage,” she told AP, adding that it was too early to assess how the political game playing out in Russia might give Ukraine the military upper hand.
Ukraine stepped up attacks in several directions in the southeast earlier this month, a move that signaled its much anticipated counteroffensive had begun. But progress has been “slower than desired,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has acknowledged.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said last week a new reserve army would be formed by the end of June, bolstering Russian manpower along the Ukrainian front, where Russia has committed 90 percent of its forces and significantly outnumbers Ukrainian fighters already. (AP)