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What does Putin’s standoff with Wagner mercenary group mean for Russia?

The march to Moscow by the Russian mercenary Wagner force of thousands came to a dramatic end on Saturday, with Russian President Vladimir Putin suffering severe dents to his armor that dispelled his indomitable image, according to critics.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of Wagner, who is also known as “Putin’s Butcher,” reportedly came within 120 miles of Moscow before he agreed to a deal to go into exile in Belarus that was brokered by the country’s authoritarian ruler Alexander Lukashenko.  

Garry Kasparov, who is a fierce opponent of Putin’s dictatorship, tweeted to his over one million followers: “Mafia is as mafia does. Whatever deal was reached today, blood has been spilled and Putin’s illusion of invincibility is gone. He and his cronies tasted real fear. Moscow was threatened.” 

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Rebekah Koffler, former U.S. defense intelligence officer, told Fox News Digital, “Putin is perceived by the West as weaker,” following the Wagner threat to his power. However, Koffler, whose expertise is on Putin and Russia, said, “Putin is perceived by many Russian people in Russia, generally, as stronger because he chased away the Wagner traitors who betrayed the president and the nation, and saved the country.” 

A split image shows Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, Vladimir Putin, and a tank in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don

A split image shows Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin; a Wagner group patrol in an area near a tank in Rostov-on-Don; and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Prigozhin Press Service via AP | Stringer/AFP via Getty Images | Gavriil Grigorov/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

Koffler added that the reality is “Putin is neither stronger nor weaker. His hold on power remains the same as before – strong. He has taken several measures to squeeze his grip on power.” She said Putin has introduced a counterterrorism operation “which augments security measures in Russia. It’s a form of martial law, a legal regime that allows for a number of measures and temporary restrictions.”

Putin’s state of anxiety about being toppled has reportedly led to a host of other measures to impede unrest in Russia. 

An armoured personnel carrier parked in Rostov as Wagner group mercenaries patrol the area

An armored personnel carrier is parked in a street as members of Wagner group patrol an area of Rostov-on-Don, on June 24, 2023. (Stringer/AFP via Getty Images)

According to Koffler, “Putin was always concerned about popular uprisings and stood up a special branch of service Rosgvardia, National Guard, 340,000 troops with the single purpose of monitoring key indications of an uprising and squashing it. He also stood up the National Center of State Defense, a wartime structure which conducts a 24/7 monitoring of internal and external threats.”

In an interview with “Fox and Friends Weekend,” Ukraine born Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., echoed Kasparov’s criticism, stating, “Russia is a country run by criminals.” Spartz said the friction between Prigozhin and Russia’s minister of defense was already playing out. As a result, “Putin is afraid, you know, that he might have these people [Wagner] turn on him.”

BIDEN ADMIN, FOREIGN OFFICIALS REACT AS WAGNER GROUP MAKES ‘MARCH FOR JUSTICE’ TOWARDS MOSCOW

Wagner Group mercenaries

Wagner group fighters stand guard near the headquarters of the Southern Military District in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, June 24, 2023. (Reuters/Stringer)

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “When you’re being challenged from within, as Putin has been over the last few days, that also raises profound questions. But we’ve seen, I think, lots of different cracks that have emerged in the conduct of this aggression, because everything Putin has tried to accomplish, the opposite has happened. Russia is weaker economically, it’s weaker militarily. It’s standing in the world has plummeted.”

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Prigozhin looks on from a street vehicle in Russia

The Wagner group’s Yevgeny Prigozhin looks out from a military vehicle on a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Saturday, June 24, 2023. (AP Photo)

The U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War issued a series of tweets analyzing the volatility of Russia, noting: “The Kremlin now faces a deeply unstable equilibrium. The Lukashenko-negotiated deal is a short-term fix, not a long-term solution, and Prigozhin’s rebellion exposed severe weaknesses in the Kremlin and Russian MoD [Ministry of Defense].” 

Russia will remain in state of flux, according to some veteran experts of Russia.

Alex Grinberg, who was born in Moscow and works as a foreign policy expert for the Jerusalem Institute for Security and Strategy, told Fox News Digital, “No one knows what will happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow because no one in the Russian authorities foresaw such a situation. It was not a revolt but a kind of mutiny. Russia is governed by a mafia.”

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He added, “These people do not act as politicians. They never plan or have a contingency plan. As a result, what is clear is Putin’s authority was seriously shaken.”

Fox News Digital sent numerous press queries to Russian authorities for comment.

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