The Putin Vertical Will Continue to Collapse

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 112

(Source: TCN)

At first glance, it may appear that the Kremlin has managed to alleviate the consequences of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s revolt. Sociological surveys conducted by the Russian Field company reveal that support for the founder of the Wagner Group has plummeted by over half within Russian society, from 55 to 29 percent (Kommersant, July 4). The authorities are systematically gaining control over Prigozhin’s assets and driving his media conglomerate “Patriot” into bankruptcy (Izvestiya, June 30). Meanwhile, Kremlin propaganda staunchly strives to portray the Vladimir Putin regime as having garnered widespread support during the events of June 23 and 24 (see EDM, June 27). Even Wagner’s official Telegram channel consistently exhibits loyalty to Putin’s most pressing concern at present—the war against Ukraine—by publishing frontline reports and emphasizing the imperative to “annihilate the enemies” (Т.me/wagnernew, July 5).

Russian propaganda and society, it seems, prefer to overlook the revelations made by Prigozhin regarding the true motivations behind Russia’s invasion of its neighbor. However, most observers are convinced that this apparent tranquility is merely superficial and that future uprisings in Russia akin to Prigozhin’s are only a matter of time. The most striking consequence of the June revolt is that even some pro-Kremlin media outlets admit that it has exposed the incompetence of the entire state system established under Putin. For instance, Russian state friendly Octagon Media published a long article stating that the “Wagner PMC [private military company] rebellion merely ‘ruptured the abscess’ of endless elite ‘collusions.’” This points to a system built not on law and institutional authority, but on agreements between various privileged groups.

In contrast to the predominant propagandistic narrative, this publication directly attributes the creation of such a system not to the “wild 1990s,” but to the country’s leadership, noting that, currently, it has no plans to alter its policies. The authors describe the absence of repercussions for the rebellion as “disregard for the law” and conclude that the “habit of making deals or resolving problems with money paralyzes the functioning of institutional power.” They also speculate that the next “rebel” will be a “business tycoon coddled by the authorities” and caution that the “last rebellion may serve as the prologue to genuine destabilization” (Octagon Media, June 30).

Thus far, Octagon has been one of the few pro-government media outlets openly accusing the current authorities of fostering conditions conducive to the country’s destabilization. However, other “loyalists” have also expressed their concerns. In particular, commentators on pro-Kremlin Telegram channels draw direct parallels between the assault on journalist Elena Milashina and lawyer Alexander Nemov in Chechnya (, July 4) and the Wagner rebellion. They note that in both Kadyrov’s and Prigozhin’s cases, the state is relinquishing its monopoly on violence, and the price of inaction could be the fate of Russia as a state (, July 4).

These confessions of propagandists align with the conclusions of independent experts. Political scientist Vladimir Pastukhov, for example, acknowledges that Putin governs the country through his personal favorites, each wielding immense power, and that an inevitable conflict between them is looming (YouTube, July 5). Former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky shares a similar perspective, emphasizing the inevitability of the disintegration of statehood in a country where the rule of law is absent (Т.me/khodorkovski, July 4). Some propagandists have seemingly recognized this threat, understanding that the collapse of the Putin vertical poses a personal danger to them. As a result, they have started fervently advocating for strengthening state centralization (YouTube, June 28). However, in practice, achieving this goal is impossible for several reasons.

To begin with, it would be necessary to eradicate corruption, which is the cornerstone of the Putin regime. Corruption encompasses not only bribery but also an entire system in which government institutions essentially serve nefarious schemes. Criminal cases are often initiated not against lawbreakers, but against those who refuse to “negotiate” or share money with corrupt individuals (Krym Realii, October 26, 2016). Conversely, offering bribes to the right people frequently exempts individuals from accountability. The principle of “collusion” indeed underlies governance under Putin. It is no coincidence that businesspeople openly admit to seeking ways to make deals with the authorities (, January 25, 2006). Menawhile, opposition figures discuss how to negotiate without betraying their morals (, May 22, 2019). However, as the number of players increases and conflicts between them intensify, the system of agreements has begun to falter. An agreement with one elite group no longer guarantees protection from persecution by another.

Additionally, the fierce confrontation between intelligence agencies and various elite groups has led to the degradation of laws and government institutions within Russia. Numerous cases of state treason exemplify this phenomenon. While scientists and journalists receive lengthy sentences for entirely legal actions (, 2020), genuine acts of betrayal, such as disclosing intelligence from rival intelligence agencies, go unpunished (see EDM, May 22). With the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the capabilities and impunity of each Russian security structure have multiplied. Repressive laws enable harsher measures against dissidents, and the Kremlin’s reliance on military power promotes forgiveness and even reward for war crimes (, March 7). Meanwhile, federal authority has weakened, increasingly relying on its “favorites.”

The measures taken by the Russian authorities regarding the Wagner Group serve as clear examples. While some of Prigozhin’s projects, including the “troll factory” and recruitment centers for mercenaries in Ukraine, are formally being closed in Russia (Current Time TV, July 3), the Wagnerites continue to recruit personnel without hindrance, claiming that there are “no legal obstacles for newcomers” (Т.me/wagnernew, July 3). On its official channel, Wagner explains that, even with reorganization and formal leadership changes, “a part of Prigozhin’s structures will continue to fulfill state contracts,” as over the years they have “become so deeply integrated into the fabric of the state that removing them abruptly would pose serious problems for the country” (Т.me/wagnernew, July 4). Thus, the Wagner mercenaries and other similar entities are keenly aware this dependency and the growing weakness of the country’s leadership, making the Putin regime ever-more vulnerable.