Glued to their mobile phones, millions of Ukrainians spent a sleepless night on Friday, after the head of the Wagner mercenary group declared war on his Russian military rivals, which sparked unprecedented political turmoil in Moscow.
“Events are developing according to the scenario we discussed last year,” said Mykhailo Podolyak, a key adviser to the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. “The start of the Ukrainian counter-offensive has finally weakened the Russian elite, intensifying the internal divisions that emerged after the defeat in Ukraine. Now we are actually witnessing the beginning of a civil war.
Earlier on Saturday, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, accused Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner, of “betrayal” after the warlord launched a mutiny against the Russian army.
In audio clips released on Friday, Prigozhin admitted that a Russian rocket attack had killed several fighters, vowing “revenge” and “stopping the evil brought by the country’s military leadership”.
Since the start of the full-scale invasion, Ukraine has longed for internal instability in Russia as a result of the conflict. On Saturday morning, when news of Wagner’s uprising spread, many Ukrainians struggled to believe it was real – until footage shared online appeared to show Wagner’s troops with tanks and armored vehicles surrounded government buildings in the Russian city of Rostov, where Prigozhin claimed to have been taken. above the army base.
“Prigozhin’s group took over military facilities, headquarters and entire cities, almost without resistance on their way, disarming random soldiers and police,” said Podolyak. “Putin declared Prigozhin a traitor and an outlaw and announced the appropriate orders to the special services, but nothing happened – a management crisis, a de facto loss of power. In the same moment, Wagner continues to march toward Moscow. Ukraine continues to move in its own direction. Toward the borders of 1991.”
In a comment to the Ukrainian state news agency Suspilne, Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov said Wagner’s actions in Russia were a “continuation of intra-Russian conflicts” that consequences of military aggression against Ukraine.
“This is a sign of the collapse of the ruling regime, and such processes will intensify,” he added.
While Putin has been forced to watch his back, many believe that the turmoil in Russia will give Ukraine an opportunity to step up its counteroffensive – which, Zelenskiy admitted, was “slower than desired” – and boost morale of its troops fighting bloody and uncertain battles on the frontlines.
“As the war began, so will it end – inside Russia,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defense council, tweeted. “The process has begun.”
Zelenskiy said: “Whoever chooses the path of evil will destroy himself. Sending columns of soldiers to destroy life in another country – and not stopping them from fleeing and betraying when life turns against … [Putin] Despised the people and threw hundreds of thousands into the war – to finally block himself in the Moscow region from those he himself armed.
“For a long time, Russia used propaganda to hide its weakness and the stupidity of its government. And now there is so much chaos that no lie can hide it.”
He added: “Russia’s weakness is obvious. Total weakness. And the longer Russia keeps its troops and mercenaries in our land, the more chaos, pain and problems it will have later.