Wagner mutiny blows ‘massive hole’ in Putin’s power and Russia could now ‘fall apart’, senior MPs predict

The Wagner mutiny has blown a “massive hole” in Vladimir Putin’s authority and Russia could now “fall apart” amid a power struggle to replace him, senior MPs have told i.

Commons Defence Committee chair Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative, and Russia expert Sir Chris Bryant, of Labour, suggested Russia’s politicians, oligarchs, security and armed forces and people could turn against the President, despite his deal with Wagner Group leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

The mercenary group’s chief reached the deal with the Kremlin after an extraordinary sequence of events in which his troops claimed Russian cities Rostov-on-Don and Voronezh, the site of Russian nuclear weapons bases, before they started to march on Moscow.

Mr Ellwood said Mr Putin’s offering of exile in Belarus to Mr Prighozin was “not the Russian way”, which usually sees leaders crush their enemies, and that this has left the President in a highly vulnerable position.

He said that the loyalty of the army and FSB security service to Mr Putin was now being called into question and suggested senior Russian politicians and oligarchs could act against him.

Mr Ellwood said the UK and Western allies now must keep “close watch” of the situation “because you are dealing with a country that is fragmenting that has nuclear weapons”.

“This is a dangerous game-changer for the war in Ukraine and indeed for Russia,” he said.

“Putin’s days are clearly numbered, he might survive the initial wound for a period of time but as Russian history shows, often it triggers a series of subsequent events that lead to the leader’s downfall.

“Power is ebbing away.

“The Wagner Group may be neutered, Prighozin exiled, but Putin is definitely weaker and the hawks are now circling.

“The folly of the Ukraine war is now for all of Russia to see, despite the state media saying otherwise.

“Russia thrives on having a strong leader and when any leader is no longer seen to be strong or able to hold the country together, the Kremlin can be quite ruthless in dismissing that leader – that’s what we’re seeing the beginnings of now.”

He suggested Russia could now fall apart and fragment without a strong leader to stand up to outside aggressors and internal strife.

“Russia is sometimes described as a snowball made out of dry snow – it’s hard to keep dry snow together, there are so many different snowflakes that don’t sit together.

“The hands round that snowball were Putin’s, he held the country together, when you remove those hands the snowball falls apart.”

Sir Chris also said Mr Putin is vulnerable, suggesting that the only positive that could come from the instability could be an end to the war in Ukraine.

“This isn’t just a chink in Putin’s armour, it’s a massive hole, it’s like he’s lost his cuirass – or his breastplate – that isn’t going to inspire confidence in the Russian people,” he said.

“There are no good things in any of this, they are all just less worse things.”

Sir Chris accused the UK of failing to act against Wagner quickly enough, despite an imminent decision on proscribing the mercenary group that would allow legal action against it.

The MP said: “The UK has been very slow to take action against the Wagner Group, not just in Ukraine but elsewhere too, in Africa for instance.

“And I think the Foreign Affairs Select Committee will be coming up with some recommendations in the very near future.

“We’ve found pretty startling evidence about how they are financed, structured – they are sources of instability in several countries around the world, not just Ukraine.”

It came as Tory former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind suggested Mr Putin will be deposed in months.

He told the Camilla Tominey Show on GB News: “Remember, after the Cuban missile crisis it was a year after the Soviets had failed that Khrushchev was just quietly removed by his own colleagues in the Politburo and sent off to his Dachas to retire.

“Now at some stage, and these things tend to accelerate once they begin, at some stage a group of the most senior Russians around Putin – it’s not going to be a popular uprising, it’s not going to be a military coup – a mixture of some generals, FSB intelligence agency people, some of the oligarchs will say ‘comrade Vladimir, we think perhaps it’s time for you to retire to your Dachas’.”

Cabinet Minister John Glen said the aftermath of the rebellion was an “internal matter” for Russia which will not affect the UK’s ongoing support for Ukraine and stressed the Government was watching the situation “very carefully”.

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