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Has Putin Lost Russia?

Vladimir Putin’s greatest nightmare has come true, with Russia having been brought to the brink of civil war. Even if a massacre of the rebellious Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner forces does eventually take place, he will remain a heroic, truth-telling icon for many Russians.

WARSAW – In his address to the Russian people in the wake of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny, Russian President Vladimir Putin alluded to the events of 1917, when General Lavr Kornilov’s infantry rebellion opened the way for the Bolsheviks to seize power and unleash a five-year civil war.

From the Kremlin’s perspective, that smuta (dark age), is the most dangerous threat to Russia, though not merely for the military calamity that it portends. The men in Putin’s Kremlin do not care what happens to the Russian people, their homes, and their cities. For them, the most frightening prospect is that the state apparatus will take a neutral position at this moment of crisis, waiting to see who will win – and before whom it will be necessary to bow down.

As of this writing, Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenaries have called off their “march of justice” to Moscow, where Prigozhin vowed to hang regime elites – including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov, and numerous generals and oligarchs – in Red Square. Wagner’s convoy of thousands of troops and weapons along the M4 “Don” expressway, which at one point was no more than 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Moscow with the Russian army nowhere visible to stop it, has reversed course. But, before agreeing to turn back, they had taken control of Rostov-on-Don, which contains the headquarters of Russia’s southern military district, without a fight and, moving north, took over the important city of Voronezh as well.