Ukraine welcomes 'positive' impact of Russian military instability after weekend of chaos

Servicemen sit in a tank with a flag of the Wagner Group military company and writing reading "Siberia", as they guard an area at the HQ of the Southern Military District in a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Saturday, June 24, 2023. Russia's security services had responded to Prigozhin's declaration of an armed rebellion by calling for his arrest. In a sign of how seriously the Kremlin took the threat, security was heightened in Moscow, Rostov-on-Don and other regions. (AP Photo)
Wagner servicemen guard an area at the HQ of the Southern Military District in a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. Credit: AP

The armed rebellion against the Russian military over the weekend may have come to an end, but the challenge to President Vladimir Putin could have long-term consequences for his rule - and a "positive" impact on Ukraine's fight, officials say.

The chaos caused by Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin's short-lived revolt on Saturday ended with retreat, but the Kremlin's scramble to secure Moscow as troops marched to upend the country’s military leadership was greeted “with applause” by commanders of Ukraine’s Eastern Group of Forces.

It's spokesperson, Serhii Cherevatiy said: “Soldiers at the front lines are positive about it. Any chaos and disorder on the enemy’s side benefits us.”

A mass of internet 'memes' mocking Putin quickly inundated social media, and a stream of statements from Ukraine’s top brass described the turmoil as a sure sign of more instability to come.

ITV News Correspondent Emma Murphy reports on the latest details of a story that continues to develop and confuse those in Moscow and around the world

In one widely shared video, well-known Ukrainian drone commander Magyar could be seen watching the revolt on an iPad while eating enormous amounts of popcorn from what appears to be military equipment.

Prigozhin vowed to take "revenge" on the Russian military over the weekend and ordered his men to cross over from Ukraine to Russia in order to oust the country's leadership.

Despite this, the greatest challenge to President Putin in his more than two decades in power quickly fizzled out, with the two sides reaching a deal for Prigozhin to go into exile and sound the retreat.

On Monday, Russian media reported a criminal probe against Prigozhin continued, and his whereabouts remained unknown.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu made his first public appearance since the rebellion, as Russian media speculated that he and other top military leaders have lost Putin’s confidence and could be replaced.

Shoigu was shown in video released by the Defence Ministry flying in a helicopter and then attending a meeting with officers at a military headquarters in Ukraine.

The video was widely shown on Russian media, including state-controlled television, although it was unclear when it was filmed.

General Staff chief General Valery Gerasimov, who was a main target of Prigozhin’s alongside Shoigu, has not been seen since the uprising.

Footage on Russia media appears to show Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu's first public appearance since the rebellion, however it is unclear when it was filmed

President Putin has not appeared in public since the events on Saturday, but a video was broadcast on Monday showing the Russia leader hailing the opening of an international engineering forum.

His address made no mention of the armed rebellion, despite the forum’s host city Tula sitting close to where Wagner forces had reached, and it remains unclear when the footage of Putin broadcast on Monday was actually filmed.

The Kremlin is also yet to comment on the last-ditch deal with Wagner apparently brokered by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the government has been "analysing and monitoring" the situation in Ukraine and the tensions between the Russian military leadership and the Wagner group "for some time".

Speaking on Monday, Sunak said: "It's too early to predict with certainty what the consequences of this (weekend) might be, but of course we are always prepared as we would be."

A pro-Kremlin activist with a flag showing Putin and the words 'For the Motherland, for the sovereignty, for the Putin', near the Kremlin. Credit: AP

The 24-hour mercenary rebellion did not noticeably affect the Russian army's position along the 1,000 kilometre (600-mile) frontline in eastern Ukraine, but it could give the Ukrainians the boost it needs to intensify its counteroffensive, which military leaders have admitted is going slower than expected.

Saturday's events have also severely dented Putin’s reputation as a leader who is willing to ruthlessly punish anyone who challenges his authority - which may open the door for others to challenge.

Nigel Gould-Davies, a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Affairs, said: “In the short term, it distracted attention from the war and diverted some resources from the front.

"But in the longer term it shows lack of unity among Russia's fighting forces.

“It’s terrible for Russia’s morale. The officers and soldiers alike. It’s very good for Ukraine’s morale.”

Ukrainian soldier Andrii Kvasnytsia, 50, who was injured fighting in the eastern city of Bakhmut and is now recovering in Kyiv, said: “Everyone is excited. It is all hard, not easy, but we will certainly win.

“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.'"

Ukraine stepped up attacks in several directions in the southeast earlier this month, a move that signaled its much anticipated counteroffensive had begun.

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has acknowledged that progress has been “slower than desired".

With modern NATO-standard weapons systems in their possession, morale is one of the necessary ingredient's to summon the velocity Ukrainian troops need to change the dynamics on the ground, they say.

“This is going to give the Ukrainians a real boost,” said James Nixey, head of Chatham House’s Russia and Eurasia program.

“If we’ve been saying that the Ukrainians do have a lot to fight for, they have been lacking a little bit in morale of late.”

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