Troops from the Wagner Group mercenary force abruptly reversed course after advancing through southern Russia toward Moscow on June 24, bringing an apparent end to what appeared to be an attempted coup d’état. Yevgeny Prigozhin, chief of the Wagner Private Military Company, announced:
In the course of a day, we marched to 200 km from Moscow. In that time, we did not lose a single drop of blood from among our fighters. Now the moment has arrived when blood could be spilled… Therefore, recognizing the grave responsibility that Russian blood would be shed on one side or the other, we are turning our columns back and moving in the opposite direction, back to the field camps, in accordance with plans.
Wagner forces advanced through Rostov-on-Don and Lipetsk in what Prigozhin called a “march of justice.” His troops had reportedly seized control of Russia’s Southern Military District in Rostov-on-Don the previous day. Over the course of the march toward the capital, Wagner-linked Telegram accounts posted content purporting to show citizens in seized territories welcoming Wagner troops, and messages of support from throughout the country.
It was not immediately clear what prompted Prigozhin’s about-face, although Belarusian authorities claim their country’s leader Alexander Lukashenko facilitated negotiations between the parties throughout the day. While treason charges against Prigozhin have been dropped, he is seemingly to go into exile in Belarus.
Tensions between Moscow and Wagner had been mounting in recent weeks. Prigozhin on multiple occasions accused Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, chief of the military’s general staff, of failing to supply adequate arms to Russian soliders in Ukraine. The rhetoric escalated this week, with Prigozhin blaming Russia’s top brass of having misled Putin and the Russian people about realities on the ground in Ukraine prior to the February 2022 invasion. He also accused Russian military forces of having attacked a Wagner camp in Ukraine.
In previous statements, the otherwise outspoken Prigozhin appeared to take great care not to criticize Putin directly. But following the accusations of treason, the Wagner Group took an overtly critical tone in addressing the Kremlin. In a comment following Putin’s address, the Wagner Group’s media arm accused the president of prioritizing the interests of Russia’s ultra-wealthy—himself apparently included—over the interests of Russia’s soldiers. “What have you given to the war veterans? 3,700 rubles [$44] a month? …Why is it that you only see your own problems—how to defend Moscow and Rublyovka [ed: a wealthy suburb outside of Moscow known for its sprawling mega-mansions]? …How many fighters have died so that you could live in your mansions?”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted in response to the power struggle in Russia that he who “chooses the path of evil destroys himself,” suggesting that Putin “throws hundreds of thousands into the war, only to eventually barricade himself in Moscow against those whom he himself armed.”
From Jurist, June 24. Used with permission.
Photo: Wagner Group/Telegram via Jurist