Could Russia disintegrate?

COMMENT – Expectations that June’s revolt would lead to a regime change were misplaced. Instead, the Russian state will enter a phase of slow decay.

The real stakes in Russia’s war against Ukraine are not only the fate of Ukraine but also the future character and borders of the Russian state. This became particularly evident during the recent mutiny of Wagner group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, which marked the first serious rebellion in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and one of many new developments in Russia’s internal situation that could acquire significance as stages in a long-term “disintegration” scenario.

Gapon effect

A forgotten but significant figure in the history of Russia is Georgy Gapon, the Orthodox priest who led the St. Petersburg workers’ protests in January 1905. Gapon was not just a revolutionary and people’s tribune – today we know he played a double game, secretly working with tsarist officials and the secret police. Gapon, like Mr. Prigozhin, hardly resembles the image of a good revolutionary. Yet it was his activity more than any other that led to Bloody Sunday, which sparked the 1905 Revolution and started the collapse of a great empire. At the core of that revolution was the “desacralization of the Tsar” and the ambiguous role played by Gapon himself, who was both a rebel and collaborator. The same may be true of Prigozhin.

The chief result of Mr. Prigozhin’s rebellion was to desacralize Mr. Putin’s rule, even if the march was aborted 200 kilometers away from the capital. Gapon was finally murdered by the secret police, and Mr. Prigozhin was likely to meet a similar end. It is probable that the plane crash in which he reportedly died was arranged by close associates of President Putin. Nevertheless, for Russia, his strange rebellion was a serious test. It exposed the weakness of the Russian president and the authoritarian system he built, revealing hidden fractures in the highest circle of power. In Russian history, waves of change have traditionally been triggered when people perceive the ruler as failing to lead or showing fear – thereby stripping him of his “holy” status. And as Wagner troops approached Moscow, no one was seen rushing to save Mr. Putin. To save face and scare off other potential rebels, the Russian leader had to arrange a theatrical demise for Mr. Prigozhin and his allies. But the desperate gesture could also be interpreted as a sign of weakness by Mr. Putin’s enemies.


Read the entire article written by Prof. Pawel Kowal on GIS Reports.