Jun 6, 2023
When Yevgeny Prigozhin attempted to overthrow the Russian government with his mercenary company, the Wagner Group, Western observers gleefully described the near-coup as proof of President Vladimir Putin’s weakness. But a more careful consideration suggests self-congratulation may be less warranted than worry. Russia’s political weaknesses are severe but exacerbated by three features widely shared by large, industrialized countries, including the United States and China: 1) a weakening state, 2) the privatization of violence, and 3) the increasing power of non-state groups and identities. These features pose difficult but manageable challenges during peacetime and relatively small-scale combat operations. However, the same features could prove combustible under the pressures of a major war. The potential for an armed insurrection of some type can no longer be regarded as unthinkable.