Putin in trouble as Russia must ‘prepare for second march on Moscow’

Vladimir Putin slams ‘treason’ from Wagner mercenary group

For all the gains made by Ukraine during their counter offensive, capturing more territory in six weeks than Russia did during their entire spring attack, Vladimir Putin’s most pressing problem is instability on his own territory, Ukrainian officials have said.

Rebel incursions, drone strikes, long range missile attacks and, most importantly, a mutinous march on Moscow have drastically increased anxiety among the civilian and elite population of Russia.

The British Ministry of Defence, in an intelligence report on Monday (July 31), said the instability in Russia had shown that after nearly 18 months of the “special military operation”, a conflict that the Kremlin had believed would be brief and away from the motherland, Putin was now “failing to insulate the population from the war”.

Russia’s only territorial gain of their spring offensive was the Wagner Group’s encirclement of the besieged city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine (Donetsk Oblast).

But the fallout from that victory, one that will likely be short-lived as Ukrainian units have already begun reclaiming areas around the city, has far outweighed the success and it has rocked the very foundations of a Putin regime that has stood for more than two decades.

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Oleksiy Danilov, Ukraine’s top security official, said on Tuesday afternoon (August 1) that any future Russian offensive operations were not possible because Putin“urgently needed to prepare to meet the second campaign on Moscow”.

Wagner may now be in Belarus, though its chief Yevgeny Prigozhin appears to have spent less than a few days exiled in the vassal state, choosing instead to fly around Russia, but the seeds of their insurrection have already been sown.

Since June 24, when they marched on Moscow, at least 11 of the Kremlin’s top military commanders have been arrested, fired or have disappeared, including the Wagner-affiliated deputy head of the Russian Armed Forces, Sergei Surovikin.

French intelligence reports suggested that multiple Russian military officials, including Surovikin, knew about the Wagner insurrection before it happened.

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And the complaints of Prigozhin against defence minister Sergei Shoigu and the head of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine, Valery Gerasimov – he said they were “incompetent” and responsible for the death of thousands of Russian soldiers – are now being echoed by generals of the “special military operation”, as well as the public.

Major General Ivan Popov, who commanded occupying forces in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region, was fired in mid-July after accusing Shoigu and Gersimov of “treacherously and vilely decapitating the army at the most difficult and tense moment”, referring to their inadequate supply of his forces.

Among the Russian public, the latest poll from Levada found that roughly half of the population does not trust the defence minister either.

And while Putin’s approval ratings have stayed roughly the same, the Russian leader has since requisitioned the Russian Interior Ministry’s Grom Special Forces unit amid uncertainty about the loyalty of his National Guard, his trusted protective services in Russia, who appeared to watch as Wagner marched on Moscow.

Ukrainian officials hope and believe these sequence of events, as well as Ukraine’s unclaimed long range strikes in the occupied territories as well as in mainland Russia, are heightening tensions to the detriment of the “special military operation”.

One senior official told The Independent that they were “hoping those negative effects will cascade down to further lower ordinary soldiers’ morale”.

According to Mr Danilov, Ukraine may not have to wait long to see these results. A second mutiny would “not be much delayed”, he concluded in his statement on Tuesday.

“The growth of protest of various colours of disaffected people in Russia cannot be pushed back,” he said.

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