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This weekend, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group, led a mutiny against the Russian army. From Friday night to Saturday, Wagner’s forces managed to capture the city of Rostov and marched on Moscow until, on Saturday night, they agreed to withdraw after reaching an agreement with the Russian government. According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Prigozhin will be banished to Belarus and the charges against him will be dropped; Wagner fighters who participated in the attempted mutiny will not be prosecuted and those who did not participate will be offered Defense Ministry contracts. However, the situation is still developing and much remains to be clarified about the fate of the Wagner Group. We asked four experts to tell us more.
Read more below.
Director, Russian Studies Program
Naval Analysis Center
The Prigozhin mutiny was ultimately a desperate act by someone who was cornered, on the losing end of a Byzantine power struggle. Prigozhin probably felt that another dramatic act would lead Putin to rule in his favor, perhaps encouraged by patrons in Moscow who had long provided him with cover. Instead, he challenged the system itself and, although he was unable to offer a political alternative, his actions exposed the regime’s weakness.
It’s important to emphasize that we still don’t know much about how this ends, what the deal was, and whether it will stick. It remains to be seen what will happen to Prigozhin and Wagner. Putin’s latest statement suggests that the options for Wagner’s soldiers are demobilization, absorption into the Russian army or exile in Belarus. For now, the damage to the Putin regime is arguably the clearest part of this saga.
Foreign Policy Research Institute
I think the catalyst for the mutiny was the recent announcement by the Russian Defense Ministry that all private military companies and volunteer units would have to sign contracts with them. This was probably an attempt by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, to maintain the status quo and autonomy for Wagner. But what started as a factional dispute between two powerful Russian figures turned into a public challenge to Putin. It is too early to say what the long-term ramifications of this mutiny will be, but the success or failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive could be a critical factor.
Principal Research Scientist, Naval Analysis Center;
Associate, Davis Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, Harvard University
The mutiny by Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner private military company over the weekend was a major blow to the Russian political system. Prigozhin probably initiated the action to prevent Wagner from being subsumed by the Defense Ministry. The shock, however, stems from the lack of warning by the Russian security services and the ease with which, in less than 24 hours, Wagner occupied Rostov and marched 200 kilometers from Moscow. Although the immediate threat was averted by a negotiated settlement, the damage to the perception of domestic power and Putin’s invulnerability will weaken Russia’s political system in ways that Putin will find difficult to overcome.
Foreign Policy Research Institute
Tensions between the Wagner Group and the Ministry of Defense appear to have finally reached a boiling point, with the Wagner Group even attempting a march on Moscow, which was later aborted. This all follows a protracted battle for command and control in the Ukraine war, where Wagner’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin accused the Russian Defense Ministry of threatening the group’s operations by withholding supplies. Although President Putin and Prigozhin have reached a negotiated deal whereby Prigozhin goes to Belarus and most of his forces in Russia and Ukraine sign contracts with the Defense Ministry, this feels like a temporary ceasefire rather than of a conclusion. Both Putin and Prigozhin look vulnerable, and it’s unclear whether the two can coexist after this near-coup.
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