“One thing is very clear: Putin seems very weak,” said Alina Polyakova, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington. But a collapse of Putin’s government, she added, would pose its own dangers. The United States and its allies “should focus on supporting Ukraine as they plan for all possible scenarios, including the fall of the Putin regime and its replacement by a far-right faction that will be more brutal and less contained when it comes to the war in Ukraine.” . .”
Even assuming he stays in power, politicians worry that Putin could become more erratic if he feels cornered. “Weakness breeds riskier behavior from Putin,” said Jon Huntsman Jr., a former ambassador to Russia under President Donald J. Trump. “There is a new wave in Putin’s ‘invincibility’, which will be exploited from all angles.”
For Ukraine, which has been working in tandem with US arms suppliers and intelligence officials to drive invaders from its territory, the Russian infighting was a welcome balm after its long-awaited counteroffensive got off to a slow start.
The Wagner Group mercenary organization led by Mr. Prigozhin had been seen as the most effective Russian force on the battlefield, but with its charismatic leader heading into apparent exile in Belarus and his troops being absorbed into the Russian Defense Ministry, it may no longer be the fierce fighting unit it has been.
Unfortunately for Ukraine, the Prigozhin rebellion ended before the main Russian forces were withdrawn from the front lines to protect Moscow, according to US information. But US officials anticipate the discord will fuel doubts already plaguing Russian troops about the goal of the war and the competence of their leadership. And few believe that Mr. Prigozhin is a spent force who will simply go back to selling hot dogs, as he did when he was young. US officials hope he still has cards to play.
In fact, Kurt D. Volker, former NATO ambassador and special envoy for Ukraine, said that Prigozhin’s revolt means the beginning of the end of the war and Putin’s rule, even with the deal that halted the march on Moscow.
“Don’t trust the reversal,” he said. “This is positioning. Prigozhin wants to be seen as a hero to the Russians while he seeks more support and makes demands. The state will go after him and that may be his excuse to defend himself ‘reluctantly’”.
As Mr. Volker said, there will be “a lot more shoes to drop.”