The kinetic side of the last two days' events seems to have been concluded as Yevgeny Prigozhin's units have fallen back and their leader is set to leave for Belarus, while the moral challenge of the conflict remains, Leo Kunnas, vice chairman of the Riigikogu National Defense Committee, said on Sunday.
"Prigozhin claimed that the war in Ukraine is built on a lie, that Russia's entire plan of action is illegitimate and that neither Ukraine nor NATO posed any threat to Russia in February of 2022 when the aggression started," Kunnas told Vikerraadio.
"According to the Wagner mercenary boss, the Ukraine war follows Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu's ambitions. He also said that Russia's losses have been systematically downplayed, and that between 100,000 and 120,000 Russian soldiers have been killed. Prigozhin has shattered the official narrative of the Ukraine war in Russia and the moral challenge will linger," Kunnas said.
The retired colonel suggested that other aspects of the deal between Alexander Lukashenko and Prigozhin make for an important matter. "The most important thing is that Prigozhin's offensive was not aimed against [President Vladimir] Putin, but [Defense Minister] Shoigu and [Gen. Valery] Gerasimov. Could their removal be part of the deal? That is the key question for the next couple of days. Putin had to make concessions somewhere, had to pay something for both sides to take a step back," Kunnas said.
The Riigikogu National Defense Committee deputy head said that Ukraine could and should capitalize on the situation. "Wagner and Kadyrov's men are gone from the front. Ukraine did try to push at several points along the front on Saturday, while we have no information in terms of whether they were successful."
He said that Ukraine has assembled 12-15 heavy brigades based on equipment and weapons from the West. "Of these, Ukraine has used five or six. The Ukrainian side is forming new units, most of them lightly armed, while they still have the battlefield advantage," Kunnas said.
Igor Taro: Confusion to benefit Ukraine
Igor Taro, MP and author of a popular Ukraine war blog, told "Aktuaalne kaamera" news on Sunday that the last two days' events show Putin has lost his authority and monopoly of power over Russian territory.
"The head of Wagner basically demonstrated that Putin has lost his monopoly over Russia, which idea he planted in a lot of heads not currently happy with the way Russia is run politically or militarily. He showed that it is possible to move hundreds of kilometers into Russia without meeting much resistance," Taro suggested.
"The fact that Prigozhin is alive and well this morning after Putin ordered him destroyed is telling to say the least," Taro added.
The likelihood of Ukraine finding success with its offensive has grown exponentially on the backdrop of events in Russia. "It boils down to morale, and Prigozhin has sown a lot of confusion."
Talking about the possible fate of 25,000 Wagner members, Taro suggested that the Kremlin has left the matter open, saying that some may sign a contract with the Russian Defense Ministry, while some will leave for Belarus – this adds uncertainty and leaves wiggle room in terms of how many Wagner supporters there really are."
Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin on Friday evening accused Russian armed forces of attacking Wagner rear units which then entered Roston-on-Don in Russia Saturday. Russian authorities interpreted these actions as a call for a military coup and stepped up the readiness of internal military forces. Prigozhin claimed to control key buildings and the airport in Rostov-on-Don.
On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin in a televised address referred to Prigozhin's actions as a "knife in the back" and said that everyone rising up against the authorities will be punished. There have been reports of Russia having lost military aircraft to the march.
While Wagner troops moved on toward Moscow on Saturday, reaching Lipetsk and Moscow oblasts, Yevgeny Prigozhin said Saturday evening that Wagner has halted its March on Moscow. The mercenary boss said that his fighters will return to their bases to avoid bloodshed. A deal was apparently mediated by Belarus' Alexander Lukashenko that will see Prigozhin and his troops leave Russia and the former move to Belarus.
Editor: Marcus Turovski