Russian ex-PM: Wagner destroyed 'myth' of Putin 'stability'

Russian former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov believes that Wagner and Yevgeny Prigozhin's mutiny had weakened President Vladimir Putin

Russian former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov (photo: DW)
Russian former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov (photo: DW)


Russia's prime minister from 2000 to 2004, Mikhail Kasyanov, told DW on Friday, June 30, that he believed the Wagner mutiny had weakened President Vladimir Putin considerably inside Russia.

"The main impact is very easy and very simple," Kasyanov said. "Just the stability with Mr Putin."

For 20 years, Kasyanov said, Russian propaganda had sought to assure people "that the main basis for Putin's rule is stability and potential prosperity."

The rebellion staged by Russian private military company Wagner and its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin at the weekend, and Putin's response to it, had shattered this image, he said.

"Prigozhin managed to destroy this myth, this image of stability."

Recap of Wagner's mystery mutiny

Prigozhin's Wagner forces last Friday night alleged that they had been attacked by Russian forces. Early on Saturday, they occupied the major southern military hub of Rostov-on-Don and started moving rapidly northwards towards Moscow.

After several tense hours, with only minimal resistance that was not slowing the private army's progress, Prigozhin suddenly called off the advance as dusk neared, claiming he had decided to avoid bloodshed.

Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko appears to have helped broker a deal whereby Prigozhin would move to Belarus, and he and the Wagner group would not face criminal investigation.

For foreign observers many open questions remain even days later about the terms and sustainability of the deal, why the apparent mutiny or coup attempt started and then stopped so abruptly, what Wagner's role might be going forward, what impact the events might have on fighting in Ukraine, where Wagner forces have been heavily involved, and how it might affect Russian politics.

Russia's 'ruling elite' started 'reconsidering their attitude'

Kasyanov said that even if Putin's most senior government officials, like Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, might try to argue that the Russian regime would emerge stronger from its weekend scare, "the Russian regime, in opposite, just now seems to be more weak — and people started to understand it, especially in the ruling elite."

The most important change, Kasyanov argued, might prove to be in the attitudes of members of Russia's governments at the national or local level.

"They understand that Putin is not any longer a moderator or protector of their interests. That's why they started reconsidering their attitude to him," he said.

Putin 'dangerous, and, right now, weakening'

Kasyanov is now the leader of the opposition People's Freedom Party and is often in Latvia. He said the Vladimir Putin of today was a "completely different person" to the man he had worked with more than two decades ago.

He said that during his tenure, Putin in his first presidential term had promised to support all reforms his Cabinet proposed — and stuck to his word. He described him as someone who was trying "to understand how to operate with the state."

But now, there was "no comparison at all," Kasyanov said. Putin was now looking more like his KGB agent persona before entering politics.

"KGB agent, right now he is a natural one. In my time, he pretended to be devoted to democratic principles. Now, we see a real Putin — dangerous, and, right now, weakening."

Kasyanov said that the government's portrayal of Putin as a kind of tsar or emperor, and as the type of strong ruler Russia had historically needed or resorted to, was growing more unpopular and being met with more skepticism, particularly among more middle-class people in larger cities.

'Settlement between two bandits' to hurt at home, and in Ukraine

Asked whether the mutiny would have an impact on the fighting in Ukraine, given how for a brief window on Saturday, it looked like the fighting might move from Zaporizhzhia to the outskirts of Moscow without Ukraine's military firing a single shot, Kasyanov said he still believed it would "of course" have some slightly less pronounced effect, just "not necessarily huge and visible tomorrow, but in general terms."

"I think the morale of these officers on the battlefield, Russian officers, just decreased," Kasyanov said, adding that it had not been high in the first place.

But he said the terms of the weekend truce, and the people who brokered it, after Wagner inflicted casualties on the Russian military, would not sit well with commanders or troops.

"Right now they see that there was a settlement between two bandits," Kasyanov said, seemingly meaning Belarus' Lukashenko to be the second bandit after Prigozhin, given that he was the mediator.

"No single state institution was involved. No Ministry of Interior, no FSB [Russia's principal intelligence and security agency], no Ministry of Defense, nor any other agencies. There was commitment between two people just to give money and to give freedom. And this was settled."

To the same token, he argued the deal undermined Putin's credibility at home.

"The whole criminal case was opened in the morning and closed in the evening," Kasyanov said. "That is — people understand this — that is not a state. No law has an application in Russia at this time."

Edited by: Louis Oelofse

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