On June 23, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, released several social media posts critical of Russian military leadership and accusing the Russian defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, of ordering airstrikes on Wagner fighters. He said that he and his mercenary force would lead a “march for justice” to Moscow. The Federal Security Service (FSB) opened an investigation against Prigozhin. After initial success, Prigozhin announced his forces were turning around on June 24.
What is known so far:
- With Putin’s consent (or on Putin’s order), Russia’s Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, and Chief of Staff, Valery Gerasimov, attempted to disband the private company The Wagner Group.
- As a first step, the Ministry of Defense required members of Wagner to sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense.
- Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, refused to sign contracts, which was viewed as a sign of disobedience, punishable by the physical destruction of some of his people, forcing others to subordinate.
- It appears that “Prigozhin’s rebellion” was provoked by the Ministry of Defense’s threat, and was aimed exclusively at obtaining security for Prigozhin himself and for his people.
- It turned out to be more successful than anyone could have imagined. Prigozhin’s rebellion was the most impressive “special military operation” involving Russia’s forces at least in the last three decades.
- Detachments of Wagner took Rostov (with population of 1 million) and the staff-quarters of the Southern Military District (essentially, the center of the army operations against Ukraine) and advanced relatively easily through the Rostov, Voronezh, and Lipetsk regions.
- The Wagner forces could not pass through the Tula region. If they could go through, they would certainly do it. Aleksey Dumin, the governor of Tula and a former Putin bodyguard and one of his most loyal and trustful lieutenants, played a role in blocking Wagner’s advance.
- The chance for further advancement rapidly disappeared, and Prigozhin was forced to negotiate. He tried to protect himself and his people by sending them to Belarus. Whether this part of the deal will be fulfilled remains to be seen.
- Prigozhin’s rebellion greatly frightened the regime and caused significant reputational damage to Putin, who turned to leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan for help. For the first time in the country’s history, the leader of Turkey offered mediation services to Putin to settle a Russian domestic crisis. Putin himself apparently left the Kremlin and flew to his Valdai residence 400 km north-west of Moscow.
- Most of Putin’s officials and propagandists remained conspicuously silent during the 24-hour crisis, and some hastened to leave Moscow.
- Putin will not forget the horror that engulfed him and the betrayal of some of his entourage and will be forced to start the reorganization of the regime.
- Representatives of the Russian “Berlin-Brussels” opposition who, in recent months, blocked their democratic colleagues standing up for resistance to the regime, but immediately expressed support for the outright criminal Prigozhin, publicly discredited themselves.
- The regime showed its weakness, but it stood. It will not remain the same after this.
- Once again it has been exceptionally demonstrated that there is no non-violent way to change or replace Putin’s regime.
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