Wagner rebellion turmoil an ‘internal matter’ for Russia, says John Glen

Fallout from the mercenary group’s march on Moscow continues

Gwyn Wright
Monday 26 June 2023 04:36 BST
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation (Gavriil Grigorov/Kremlin Pool/AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation (Gavriil Grigorov/Kremlin Pool/AP) (AP)

The aftermath of the Wagner rebellion in Russia is an “internal matter” which will not affect the UK’s ongoing support for Ukraine, a Cabinet minister has said.

Chief secretary to the Treasury John Glen made the comments as the fallout from the mercenary group’s march on Moscow continues.

The group’s forces, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, were just 120 miles from Moscow before the rebellion was called off to avoid shedding Russian blood.

He has gone into exile in Belarus after a deal with Vladimir Putin’s government was brokered at the last minute.

The agreement will see charges against him of mounting an armed rebellion dropped.

The Russian government also said it would not prosecute Wagner fighters who took part, while those who did not join in were to be offered contracts by the Defence Ministry.

Yuriy Sak, who advises the Ukrainian defence minister, told the BBC the rebellion is “the most ridiculous attempt at mutiny” ever.

Mr Glen told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme that the UK will not be intervening in Russia’s internal affairs.

He added: “It is obviously a very unstable situation in Russia, but it is fundamentally an internal matter.

“And we’ve obviously urged, alongside our allies … that obviously civilian interests are considered.

“This isn’t a matter that we will be intervening in, but obviously we observe and monitor the situation on an ongoing basis very carefully.

“Nothing has changed with respect to the British Government’s position on supporting Ukraine.”

However Alexander Litvinenko’s widow Marina suggested this attitude suggests Western leaders remain resistant to the idea of Vladimir Putin stepping down.

She told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “They accept Ukrainian people in a different country they have support, but they still want to keep Putin, and at least to have some kind of controlling of Russia.

“(After what happened on Saturday) we can see, Putin doesn’t control nothing. If you want to save Russia from collapsing you need to take Putin out from this place.”

Shadow communities secretary Lisa Nandy told Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the government should be “doing pretty much what they are” when asked about the situation.

She said the events suggest it is “clear that Ukraine is winning the war.”

The shadow minister went on: “We now need to make sure that all of the Nato Allies stand not just with President Zelensky and Ukraine to send a clear message to President Putin, that we will be there and with the Ukrainian people until that war is won.”

Former chief of the UK general staff Lord Dannatt warned on the programme that a renewed attack on Kyiv could take place if Mr Prigozhin’s troops follow him to Belarus, whose government has supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Meanwhile former chief of the defence staff Lord Richards warned the UK risks “woefully underestimating” Russia and its armed forces.

Lord Dannatt said: “Apparently he’s left the stage to go to Belarus but is that the end of Prigozhin and the Wagner Group? The fact that he’s gone to Belarus is I think a matter of some concern.

“What we don’t know, what we will discover in the next hours and days is… how many of his fighters have actually gone with him.

“If he has gone to Belarus and has kept an effective fighting force around him, he then presents a threat again to the Ukrainian flank closest to Kyiv which is where all this began on February 24 last year.

“Although it would appear that this matter is closed I think it is far from closed and the aftershocks will reverberate for quite some time.

“They (Ukraine) need to watch that flank very carefully and make sure they have got some manoeuvre units such that they could repel a renewed attack from the direction of Belarus.”

Lord Richards told Times Radio: “It seems to me that we have been at risk of woefully underestimating Russia and her armed forces.

“It doesn’t appear as if Ukraine has been able to exploit it to achieve what it wants to do and needs to do, which is … a big penetration of the Russian lines.

“And I suspect that whilst it might yet still happen, that we are in, despite the weakened state, arguably of (Vladimir) Putin, we’re in for a long haul here.

“And that actually is the worst of all worlds for the West.”

Former MI6 officer Christopher Steele told the programme: “What’s changed I think is that Vladimir Putin has lost authority and legitimacy within Russia and has been challenged in a way, yes he’s managed to worm his way out of it for the present.

“To see events unfold in Russia yesterday and the speed with which the situation seemed to spiral out of control must be very concerning for Putin and the people around him.”

Edward Lucas, a senior adviser at the Centre for European Policy Analysis, told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend that the UK must prepare for a “deeply dangerous and unpredictable” post-Putin Russia.

He said: “There will be all sorts of dilemmas and difficulties we face and we need to start thinking right now about how we deal with them.

“And that’s everything from do we worry about Russia falling into the arms of China? Is there going to be disintegration? Will it go full-on fascist? Will we have a long period of confusion and chaos? Will they use their nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip to try and get things?

“And these are all the questions that we ought to be dealing with and I’m just not seeing it in most western capitals.

“We face perhaps a decade or more of dealing with a deeply dangerous and unpredictable Russia without even the sort of superficial certainty we have of having Putin in power.”

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