The Wagner Rebellion in Russia

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, fought the bloodiest battles in Ukraine even as he feuded for months with the top Russian military brass. Finally, on June 24, the Wagner group crossed the border from Ukraine into Russia and was ready to go “all the way” against the Russian military. The Wagner fighters entered the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. Prigozhin says his fighters captured the army headquarters in Rostov-on-Don “without firing a single shot” and claimed to have the support of locals.

Then the Russian defense ministry issued a statement appealing to Wagner fighters to abandon Prigozhin, saying they have been “deceived and dragged into a criminal adventure.” Putin said that the “armed mutiny” by the Wagner Group was treason, adding that “decisive action” would be taken against them.[i] The authorities in Moscow and the surrounding area say they have declared a “counterterrorism” state of emergency after Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed his forces were in control of military sites in Rostov.[ii]

Meanwhile, Russian military helicopters opened fire on a convoy of rebel mercenaries already more than halfway to Moscow in a lightning advance after seizing Rostov overnight. Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service, said it was clear that Prigozhin’s attempt to destabilize society and ignite a fratricidal civil war has failed.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the armed uprising led by Wagner a clear sign of the weakness of Putin and his invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Russian foreign ministry had cautioned Western countries against using the “internal situation in Russia for achieving their Russophobic goals.”

In the end, President Alexander Lukashenko brokered a deal with Prigozhin, who agreed to de-escalate the situation. Prigozhin and all his fighters vacate Russia’s military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don.

Prigozhin will now go and live in Belarus and no charges will be brought against him. Wagner fighters who did not participate in the march on Moscow will be offered military contracts. The New York Times reported on June 24, 2023, that after Prigozhin ad halted his forces’ march on Moscow. Russia said he would go to Belarus. Meanwhile, the Kremlin dropped the criminal case against Prigozhin.[iii]

The New York Times also reported that the U.S. had suspected Prigozhin was “preparing to take action against Russia.” The information was “considered both solid and alarming because of the possibility that a major nuclear-armed rival of the U.S. could descend into chaos.”[iv]

As expected, there was speculation on what had led to the standoff between Russia and Prigozhin. It was said that Prigozhin was only Putin’s partner who was “always willing to do the dirty work.”[v] It wasn’t surprising that the matter ended as it did.

The New York Times on June 24, 2023, also maintained that the” short-lived mutiny in Russia represented the country’s most dramatic power struggle in decades.”[vi] It also reported that, U.S. Suspected Prigozhin Was Preparing to Act Against Russia, stating, “The information was considered both solid and alarming because of the possibility that a major nuclear-armed rival of the U.S. could descend into chaos.”[vii]

The BBC also reported on June 24, 2023, that the head of the Wagner mercenary rebels was “expected to leave for Belarus after calling off his troops’ advance on Moscow.” Meanwhile, security was tightened in Moscow, and the mayor told residents to avoid traveling. All mass outdoor events have been canceled until 1 July.[viii]

What does it all mean? It was essentially a reaction against the Russian military chiefs for not supplying the desperately needed ammunition for the Wagner militia in its fight against Ukraine. The rebellion wasn’t aimed at President Putin himself. The Wagner militia isn’t as disciplined as the Russian military itself. Therefore, such outbursts can be expected. It was certainly good for President Putin that the rebellion ended swiftly when it did. Otherwise, it would have been an embarrassment to him. There was never a doubt that Putin would have crushed the rebellion by force. Meanwhile, Putin is gradually losing the authority that comes from success. Essentially, Russia is a declining power, and the Ukraine war is gradually sapping its energy. It would be wise of the US and NATO powers to let Russia gradually decline as a great power and simply bide for time. The Russian population is decreasing, and its economy is also gradually declining. Therefore, Russia will not be the fearsome great power that it once was. Since it is also the world’s second greatest nuclear power, after the US, it should be treated with great caution as its complete and sudden defeat would pose even more problems and risks.  A weakened Russia won’t pose such risks, and that is what the West should aim at. Nothing more is advisable.

Dr. Sohail Mahmood is an Independent Political Analyst based in Chapel Hill NC


[i]  Wagner Boss to leave Russia after halting Moscow advance, BBC, June 24, 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-europe-66006142 and Russia-Ukraine war live: Putin says Wagner rebellion a ‘betrayal’, Reuters, June 24, 2023

[ii] Russia-Ukraine war live: Putin says Wagner rebellion a ‘betrayal’, Reuters, June 24, 2023

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Russia Says Mercenary Leader to Leave Country to Ease Crisis, The New York Times, June 24, 2023

[v] Ibid

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Ibid

Wagner Boss to leave Russia after halting Moscow advance, BBC, June 24, 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-europe-66006142

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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