KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The armed rebellion against the Russian military may have been over in less than 24 hours, but the disarray within the enemy’s ranks was an unexpected gift and timely morale booster for Ukrainian troops.
The spectacle of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny in the critical military command and control hub in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, and later Russia’s scramble to fortify Moscow as troops marched to upend the country’s military leadership was greeted “with applause” by commanders of Ukraine’s Eastern Group of Forces, said its spokesperson, Serhii Cherevatiy.
“Soldiers at the front lines are positive about it,” he said. “Any chaos and disorder on the enemy’s side benefits us.”
A video of well-known Ukrainian drone commander “Magyar” watching the revolt while eating enormous amounts of popcorn went viral. A plethora of gleeful memes mocking Russian leader Vladimir Putin inundated social media, and statement after statement from Ukraine’s top brass described the turmoil as a sure sign of more instability to come. The impending crisis ended with Prigozhin exiled to Belarus through an agreement brokered by Minsk. But for Ukrainians watching, the damage was already done.
When Russia’s vulnerability was exposed and President Putin yielded hours after he branded Prigozhin a conspiratorial traitor, he seemed weak and desperate.
The short-lived insurgency had little impact on Russian military posture along a 1,000-kilometer front in eastern Ukraine, but could give Ukraine the impetus it needed to step up the initial stages of its counteroffensive. Yes, military leaders admit the counterattack is progressing more slowly than expected.
“In the short term, attention has been diverted from the war and some resources have been diverted from the front,” said Nigel Gould Davis, senior fellow in Russia and Eurasia at the Institute for International Strategic Studies. But in the long run, this shows a lack of unity among the Russian military, he said. “It’s terrible for Russian morale. Officers and soldiers alike. This is very good for Ukrainian morale.”
The leader of the Wagner mercenaries abandoned the armed uprising and repulsed the troops marching towards the Russian capital.
On a Russian telegram channel, a military official blogging about the war urged Russian soldiers to stay focused on the war. One message reads, “Brothers! Remember those who have guns in the line of contact. The enemy is on you.”
Ukrainian soldier Andrii Kvasnytsia, 50, who was injured fighting in the eastern city of Bakhmut, where battles are nonstop along the southern flanks of the salt-mining town occupied by Russian troops, said “Everyone is excited.”
“My friend called me today and he said:
‘Andrii, I haven’t been drinking for so many years, but today I have a good reason to drink,” he said. “It is all hard, not easy, but we will certainly win.” He spoke to The Associated Press in Kyiv, where he is recuperating.
As Wagner troops marched toward Moscow, Hanna Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, announced progress in several directions along the front line where fighting has been raging for weeks, and that Russian advances further north were thwarted.
“The enemy’s weakness is always a window of opportunity, it allows us to take the advantage,” she told AP, adding that it was too early to assess how the political game playing out in Russia might give Ukraine the military upper hand.
Ukraine stepped up attacks in several directions in the southeast earlier this month, a move that signaled its much anticipated counteroffensive had begun. But progress has been “slower than expected,” acknowledged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced last week that a new reserve force would be formed by the end of June to strengthen Russian forces on the Ukrainian front.