Ever since Vladimir Putin made one of the great strategic blunders in history by invading Ukraine expecting an easy victory, the outlook for all participants has been bleak.
The Ukrainians have seen their towns and cities attacked and some destroyed. Thousands have been forced into leaving their country, with many mothers and children living abroad more than 16 months later.
The death toll among the defenders is unknown but possibly exceeds 100,000 dead and wounded, including both military and civilian casualties. The toll on Russian forces is reported to be higher.
It was the reckless way the Russian high command has been using its troops that prompted the mutiny on Saturday by the mercenaries attached to the Wagner Group. Its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has been fighting a rhetorical war with Russian defence chiefs for weeks and decided instead to use force to get them removed.
The deal with the Kremlin that led to Prigozhin backing down 125 miles from Moscow, or so he claims, and apparently going into exile may have included changes at the top. It is rumoured that Gen Valery Gerasimov, head of the armed forces, and Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister, could be replaced.
The immediate threat to Vladimir Putin has receded, even if the consensus is that he has been weakened. Russian people who have been fed lies about the Ukraine invasion from the outset must be asking how a heavily armed unit can take over a city of more than one million almost unchallenged.
While President Putin’s discomfiture is heartening, a disintegrating Russia is not something to wish for. If chaos reigns, what is the potential fate of Russia’s nuclear arsenal? At least during the Cold War it was known to be under strong central control. Prigozhin’s rebellion suggests that these weapons could fall into the hands of a motley band of mercenaries seemingly able to traverse the country at will.
Putin keeps making threats about using nuclear weapons which few analysts take seriously. But do we know how secure the country’s stockpiles are?
The mutiny may have lasted just 24 hours, but it has demonstrated just how tenuous Putin’s grip on power really is. He has seemingly taken his country with him in seeking to subjugate Ukraine but only because he has kept the brutal truth from the people and because he appeared strong. A weak leader never survives in Russia.