Umair Jalali describes a
Wagner’s Chief – The chief of the Russian mercenary army formation Wagner Group came from nowhere very suddenly and disappeared from the scene with equal rapidity. He was not the only mercenary that came to blows with his benefactors and would certainly not be the last but the timing of his appearance created ripples that caused widespread fascination. There exists tremendous curiosity about Yevgeny Prigozhin who hours after his uprising struck a deal with the Kremlin to halt his armed rebellion and accept exile in Belarus. This unexpected twist compelled people asking what happened to the Wagner Group leader and what lies in future for him. His mysterious conduct became focus of attention worldwide with news media trying to dig out his past.
In a typical mafia-style the deal he struck with the Russian leadership remains shrouded in mystery though sketchy details about the agreement was made public. Prigozhin accepted exile in Belarus while the soldiers who supported him would not be prosecuted by Moscow. Wagner Group troops that stayed out of the revolt were to be offered contracts to fight with the Russian Armed Forces directly which would put them under the control of the very military leaders Prigozhin was marching to overthrow. It appears to be a tricky situation as the Kremlin would put the associates of Wagner group under strict supervision and reports are already emerging that the Russian intelligence is actively involved in the exercise. There is a spate of conspiracy theories doing rounds with speculation centred around whether Prigozhin was allowed to take the soldiers who rebelled with him to Belarus and keep the Wagner Group operational or if the mercenary unit will be disbanded after its remaining troops join the Russian military.
Despite his rebellion, Prigozhin and his mercenaries are likely still viewed as monsters who committed some of the worst atrocities in Ukraine after Vladimir Putin ordered his invasion though only a handful of evidence against Wagner has reached the public. In April 2023, former Wagner mercenary Alexey Savichev admitted that he participated in the execution of Ukrainian prisoners of war and also said that he and his compatriots had also tortured captured soldiers. The Ukrainians are claiming to treat Russian military and its particularly associated soldiers of the Wagner group as war criminals and should be tried by an international tribunal. The Wagner group has been specifically accused of killing Ukrainian civilians particularly children and refused to take prisoners.
Fortunately, Prigozhin’s loss is Ukraine’s gain and it does look like the Wagner Group will not continue to exist in the form that has been such an effective tool for the type of war Putin’s generals have waged in Ukraine.
Wagner Group’s rebellion has caused the Russian military to alter their strategy that may have profound effect on the war. It is noted that up until Progozhin’s rebellion, the Russian Armed Forces had waged a war based on the strategy of attrition but the most effective soldiers Russia had to fight an attritional war, the Wagner Group, has now ceased to exist. Wagner group’s mercenaries were hardened criminals and had no qualms about resorting to unbridled violence. They however were noted for their courage and steadfastness during military action and they were known for achieving their given target by all means as happened in case of the capture of Bakhmut. The loss of the Wagner Group necessitates that Putin rely wholly on the Russian military. This reduces his ability to insulate the Russian population from the costs of war, diminishing the political space for such an approach. This situation has the potential of becoming highly negative for Putin and his associates who already feel besieged and may not be able to sustain the current pressure indefinitely.
Another intriguing point is the whereabouts of the rebel leader after his soldiers were allowed to withdraw to Belarus. It is not even known whether Prigozhin is alive or not and whether he has reached Belarus. The only comments attributed to him are related to his march on Moscow that he justifies as his attempt to prevent Wagner’s destruction and to get justice for those killed by Russia. He made it clear that the purpose of the march was to put pressure on Russian leadership to investigate the atrocities committed by Russian military and to rectify the mistakes it committed during the special military operation.
By all accounts however it is quite clear that Prigozhin saw his march on Moscow as a protest rather than an attempt to overthrow the government. He repeatedly emphasised that no soldiers were killed and that he regretted that some aircrafts that were bombing Wagner on their march had to be destroyed. On the other hand, Putin responded to Prigozhin without mentioning him in a public address and said that the Wagner Group troops made the right decision by halting their march adding that the armed rebellion would have been suppressed in any case as no state would tolerate it. The Weekender