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Big Trouble in Little Russia

Is Putin facing a coup?

In a significant escalation of force against the Russian military and by proxy Putin's government, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin and 25,000 Wagner mercenaries launched what is being described as the new Russian civil war or, if you prefer assessments from British intelligence, the "most significant challenge to the Russian state in recent times."

Evidence of the military operation can be found on Twitter and elsewhere, but the New York Times has verified video clips of Wagner troops occupying Russian military bases by force.

Who's involved?

Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, known to the world as "Putin's Chief," is the billionaire leader of Russia's infamous Wagner mercenary group. Business has been good.

As Putin's aggression grew, the Wagner group became the defacto bloody edge of the Kremlin's foreign policy. Since propping up Assad in Syria, Prigozhin and crew have conducted brutal, bloody campaigns throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Ukraine. Their bloody body of work can be counted in leveled Syrian towns and razed African villages.

The Putin-Wagner partnership seemed strong until about 18 months ago. But something changed as Russian forces failed in their military objectives despite ever-higher death tolls. Over time, Prigozhin became the loudest and most unsparing critic of Russian military leadership. His rapid-fire attacks on Russian military leaders – including the Kremlin's senior leaders – have become a defining narrative of the Kremlin's disastrous war.

In a country where dissent is met with brutality, Prigozhin's relentless public campaign – Putin's guy calling out Putin's generals – started to raise questions among Kremlin watchers in recent months. What was going on?

We now know that what appeared to be a slow-burn distraction has become a fast-moving crisis for Putin's gang state.

And with Ukranian forces taking the fight to depleted Russian units, the timing could not be better.

Karma's a bitch, Vlad.