by Raffaele Crocco
“If you need stability and security, come to us”. So said Evgheni Prigozhin, the founder of Wagner, who cared about publicity. Something must have gone wrong in terms of security, however, given that he died – not too surprisingly, to be honest – while travelling between St. Petersburg and Moscow. He was on a private jet belonging to his organisation.
Ten dead in what looks more and more like Vladimir Putin’s revenge, two months after the strange coup that Prigozhin himself staged by marching on Moscow. The bodies of the victims have been found. The plane exploded. Some say it was hit by an anti-aircraft missile that mistook it for a Ukrainian drone. Others say it was a bomb on board that destroyed the plane.
But everyone sees the hand of the Kremlin leader, who is used to taking revenge, in the incident, and to do it slowly and coldly. At the time of the incident, Vladimir Putin was at a meeting with the leaders of the annexed regions of Ukraine. He was talking about regional elections in September, the first to be held in these territories, and the education plan for the new school year.
The question now is what will happen to Wagner. Prigozhin’s private military organisation was, and still is, Moscow’s political-military arm in Africa. It also played a leading role in the war in Ukraine, long before the invasion 78 weeks ago.
In these hours, the Ukrainian counter-offensive seems to have gained momentum, at least in an attempt to weaken the military apparatus of the Russian invader. According to military observers, naval surface drones have attacked the military ports of Sevastopol in Crimea and Novorossiysk. Since the beginning of August, the Ukrainian navy has declared the maritime space around six Russian ports in the Black Sea a war zone: Anapa, Novorossiysk, Gelendzhyk, Tuapse, Sochi and Taman. Kyiv’s target, according to experts, is the commercial traffic around the Crimean bridge.
The offensive also continues in the skies. Moscow’s Defence Ministry said it had shot down three Ukrainian drones, two in the Bryansk region, which borders Ukraine, and another in the Kaluga region, south-west of Moscow. Kyiv’s unmanned aircraft reportedly hit Moscow and other areas. Three people were killed in the border region of Belgorod, and another drone crashed into a skyscraper in a Moscow business district. There were no casualties here.
In terms of territory regained, however, Kyiv’s offensive remains a failure. Russia still controls 20% of Ukrainian territory, more or less what it won in the first days of the occupation. This is a detail that leads observers to believe that this war is still far from over. The chancelleries are now talking explicitly about this – also in view of the immobility of the diplomatic corps – and this gives rise to all sorts of hypotheses about possible negotiations.
It is no coincidence that the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, has felt the need to reiterate that there can be no talk of peace until the 1991 borders are re-established and the 20% of Ukrainian territory now in Russian hands is regained. He is echoed by NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, who makes an ambiguous statement: “Only the Ukrainians,” he says, “can determine when and how the conditions for negotiations will be created and what an acceptable solution will be”. He does not speak of territorial restoration and recovery. He no longer even hints – as he did some time ago – at a ‘Ukrainian victory over Russia’.
These are small signs that perhaps this long war is exhausting Kyiv’s allies and that resources are not infinite. It is true that in mid-August Sweden announced a further €300 million in military aid. The United States recently put another $200 million on the table. But fatigue is setting in, and the coming winter could be very hard, very difficult and very lonely for Kyiv.