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Wagner coup: Ukraine will capitalise on this uprising

Ukraine will attempt to capitalise on the power struggle between the private army Wagner and the Russian state, but the coup attempt isn’t all good news for Zelensky’s forces, experts have warned.

In the early hours of this morning, a long-standing feud between Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Russian army dramatically escalated when Wagner troops crossed from Ukraine, where they have been fighting.

The private mercenary troops are believed to have occupied the Russian HQ from which Ukraine operations are run, while others are moving north and thought to be heading towards the capital of Moscow. It appears to be a coup attempt by Prigozhin and his forces, with a message posted on a Wagner Telegram Channel claiming that Russia would “soon have a new president.”

Orysia Lutsevych, deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia programme and head of the Ukraine Forum at Chatham House, said that unfolding events came “as perfect timing for Ukraine.”

“As Kyiv runs shaping military operations along an extensive front line, the infighting between the Ministry of Defence and Wagner mercenaries will create confusion and potential division among the Russian troops deployed in Ukraine,” she said.

“Wagner mercenaries took over the two Russian central military logistics hubs in Rostov-on-Don and Voronezh, which control their operations in Donbas and Kharkiv. This is the area where Ukrainians are currently pushing in their counter-offensive.”

With some Russian forces reportedly switching to join Wagner, Russian troops in Ukraine could be “operating in a vacuum” with no clear military instructions.

“This creates a unique and unprecedented military opportunity for the Ukrainian army,” she said.

James Nixey, director of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, said that Ukraine would “rightly capitalise” with the events providing a “spur to its soldiers on the frontline, looking to punch through.”

But he said that the events could pose a double-edged sword for Zelensky’s forces, with Prigozhin “no shining knight”.

Security expert Keir Giles said that while the events would mean some Russian forces are “temporarily distracted”, giving opportunities for Ukrainian advancement, “nobody should imagine that this development will lessen the threat to Ukraine and to Europe.”

“Prigozhin’s argument is not with the war – it’s with how, and why, it is fought,” he warned. “This is a confrontation between some of the worst people in the world, in a dispute over how to destroy Ukraine the most efficiently.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the events showed that “Russia’s weakness is obvious”, warning that anyone who “chooses the path of evil destroys itself”.

“Russia used propaganda to mask its weakness and the stupidity of its government. And now there is so much chaos that no lie can hide it. And all this is one person… although he is not able to lead to anything else,” he wrote on Telegram.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence said the move from Prigozhin was “the most significant challenge to the Russian state in recent times”.

The Wagner mercenary group’s rebellion could spark a civil war in Russia and topple Vladimir Putin, the former of the British Army has warned.

Former British Army chief, General Lord Dannat, told i the events could trigger civil war in Russia and see Putin swept from power.

Vladimir Putin has described the Wagner push as “treason” and vowed to punish those preparing a rebellion.

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