28 Jun 2023
Russian President Vladimir Putin is losing the war in Ukraine and has become "a bit of a pariah around the world," President Joe Biden said Wednesday.
Biden said it is "hard to tell" how much Putin has been weakened by Yevgeny Prigozhin's ambitious but ill-fated coup attempt. Some experts, however, say last week's chaotic insurgency stands as the greatest challenge yet to almost a quarter-century of Putin's authoritarian rule.
Mary Kate Schneider, director of global studies at Loyola University Maryland, told USA TODAY that even in failure, Prigozhin's coup attempt constitutes the single greatest challenge to Putin's authority in his 23-year reign. Prigozhin revealed "fissures in Putin's armor" that can be exploited by other challengers, she said. And Prigozhin's warm reception during his brief march could encourage those dissenters.
Rescuers and volunteers carry a rescued woman from the rubble after Russian missile strike hit a restaurant and several houses in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, on June 27, 2023.
"It doesn't matter that Prigozhin and his soldiers did not reach Moscow, and in the long run it doesn't even matter why he stopped short of Moscow," Schneider said. "What matters is that Putin blinked."
Zev Faintuch, senior intelligence analyst at Global Guardian − an international security firm with boots on the ground in Ukraine − said Putin's "monopoly on violence in Russia is over." Putin's power, Faintuch said, was derived from his ability to control the "underbosses" of Russia.
"What is clear is that we are now witnessing the final act of Putin's reign, and possibly even that of the modern Russian state," Faintuch told USA TODAY. "We’ve all seen gangster movies when the don shows weakness, and we all know what happens next. That said, it is still far too soon to predict Putin's imminent fall."
∎ Ukrainian forces advanced almost a mile in various sectors of the front line Tuesday, Ukrainian Eastern Command spokesperson Serhii Cherevatyi said. Ukrainian authorities claim they have taken back more than half the land seized by Russia in the early months of the war.
∎ Lithuania will send 10 more armored vehicles to Ukraine, bringing the total to 72, Lithuania's Defense Minister Avrydas Anusauskas announced.
Arrest made in deadly Russian missile attack on restaurant
Ukrainian authorities said Wednesday they have detained a Russian national linked to the missile attack that killed at least 10 people and wounded at least 61 others in a crowded restaurant in the eastern city of Kramatorsk. Vasyl Maliuk, head of the Secret Service of Ukraine, issued a statement saying the agent "adjusted the enemy’s missile strike" and will be tried in Ukraine.
The dead included 14-year-old sisters, the city council said on Telegram. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia "brutally attacked Kramatorsk with S-300 missiles." The Soviet-made missiles were designed for anti-aircraft defense but have been repurposed by the Russian military to attack land targets in Ukraine.
As it has throughout the war, the Kremlin denied striking civilian targets.
Ukraine expects guarantee to join NATO
Ukraine has met the three key prerequisites for NATO membership and deserves a guaranteed invite to join the military alliance when the war with Russia ends, Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Wednesday. Reznikov told The Guardian that Ukraine has proved it can function with NATO forces, has a transparent procurement system and has civilian control of the military.
Reznikov said it is in the alliance's interest to fortify its eastern flank − and that NATO should issue a membership guarantee at its meeting next month in Lithuania.
"Ukraine is already serving as a protective shield for NATO’s eastern European members," Reznikov said. "If this shield cracks, the next victims of Russian aggression could be the Baltic states, Poland, Hungary or Slovakia."
Is Putin trying to destroy coup leader Prigozhin?
Putin apparently is trying to present Prigozhin as corrupt and a liar to destroy his reputation among his Wagner Group personnel and within Russian society, a Washington-based think tank says in its latest assessment of the war.
The Kremlin has pledged not to charge Prigozhin with crimes related to the coup. But Putin in recent days has implied that Prigozhin lied when he complained about lack of state compensation for Wagner and that Prigozhin had made a fortune off his military-related Concord Company.
"Putin’s insinuation that the Kremlin will investigate the Concord Company may be preparation to justify the Kremlin’s confiscation of Prigozhin’s assets via corruption charges," the Institute for the Study of War assessment says, adding that "Putin has likely decided that he cannot directly eliminate Prigozhin without making him a martyr at this time."
Swiss block transfer of 96 Leopard tanks bound for Ukraine
The Swiss government, citing neutrality laws, shut down a plan Wednesday to ship almost 100 Leopard tanks to Ukraine. The tanks are stored in Italy in "unserviceable condition" but were designated for transport to Germany before being sent to Ukraine as military aid.
Switzerland's Federal Council issued a statement saying it "came to the conclusion that the sale of 96 tanks is not possible" because it would contradict the law on military equipment. Earlier this month, Switzerland's National Assembly approved the sale of tanks despite strict export restrictions on weaponry.
Last week, Switzerland announced a humanitarian aid package worth more than $1.3 million for demining activities in Ukraine.
WSJ: Prigozhin hoped to capture Russian military leaders
The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed Western officials, reported Wednesday that Prigozhin had planned to seize high-ranking Russian military leaders but that he was forced to accelerate his plans after the country’s domestic intelligence agency became aware of the plot. The "premature launch" of the insurrection may have led to its demise, the Journal said.
Prigozhin had intended to capture Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of Russia’s general staff, during a planned visit to a southern region that borders Ukraine, the Journal reported. But Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB, found out about the plan two days before it was to be executed, the officials said. Gen. Viktor Zolotov, commander of the National Guard of Russia, also said authorities knew about Prigozhin’s intentions before he launched his attempt.
The Western sources told the Journal it appeared Prigozhin hoped to draw support from factions of the Russian military. The ease with which Wagner’s troops pushed forward in the early hours of the coup suggests that some regular forces commanders could have been part of the plot, according to Western intelligence.