On June 23rd, the commander of the «Wagner» Private Military Company (PMC), Evgeniy Prigozhin, released a video on his Telegram channel, stating that the Russian Minister of Defense, Sergey Shoigu, had ordered a missile strike on Wagner Group's training camps in Bakhmut, resulting in the death of 2,000 fighters, according to Prigozhin himself. In response, Prigozhin announced that he would lead the «Wagner» PMC fighters in a military march to Moscow in an attempt to "sort things out". The leader of the military company demanded, to "bring him Shoigu and Gerasimov."
Earlier, Prigozhin had actively criticised the Russian Ministry of Defense, particularly Sergey Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, accusing them of providing false information about the situation in Ukraine to Vladimir Putin, as well as inadequate supplies of ammunition and equipment, which hindered Wagner PMC's operations in Ukraine.
In his address, Prigozhin also revealed that he was supported by 25,000 fighters, with an additional 25,000 in strategic reserve. The leader of the Wagner PMC called on anyone willing to join him.
Russia regarded Prigozhin's words as a call for rebellion. Following an emergency address by Vladimir Putin regarding the situation, the Federal Security Service (rus. ФСБ) promptly initiated a criminal case against the attempted military coup and issued an arrest warrant for Evgeniy Prigozhin. The message was specifically addressed to the active «Wagner» militants, urging them to arrest their leader themselves. Prigozhin himself does not consider his actions a coup but rather refers to it as a "march of justice" - Reuters.
As Prigozhin stated, "...we don't fight children; we only fight professionals," claiming that the young conscripts sent to counter the mercenaries on Russian borders let the Wagner forces pass without resistance. Prigozhin also declared that "if they encounter resistance, they will destroy anyone who stands in their way."
Meanwhile, in Moscow, authorities declared a counterterrorism operation (CTO) regime, and the streets were filled with armored vehicles in preparation for possible defense measures. Checkpoints with armed guards were established to block access to the State Duma (Parliament) and the Kremlin. Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin recommended that city residents stay at home.
In an emergency address, Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to the «Wagner» PMC uprising as a "military coup" and a treacherous "stab in the back", comparing it to the revolution in Russia in 1917. He promised to suppress the attempt and punish those responsible.
As of 07:30 AM Moscow Time on June 24th, according to Euronews sources, the «Wagner» PMC had captured Rostov-on-Don "without a single shot." Later, Prigozhin's forces moved along the M-4 «Don» highway towards Voronezh and Lipetsk, with Moscow being the ultimate goal - Sky News. According to Aljazeera, citing Moscow as a source, during the uprising, «Wagner» PMC militants shot down "several military helicopters and a communication aircraft" attacking them over Voronezh.
On June 25th, 2023, it was announced that the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, acting as a mediator between the «Wagner» PMC and the Kremlin, managed to reach an agreement to end the rebellion through a deal, the details of which were not publicly disclosed, according to the press service of the Belarusian President. According to some sources, the criminal case against Prigozhin was closed, as confirmed by Russia's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, and Evgeniy Prigozhin himself was exiled to Belarus as one of the conditions of the deal.
Upon reaching the agreement, the leader of the «Wagner» PMС, has turned the columns of militants in the opposite direction and ordered them to return to Ukraine, and by the morning of June 25th, the rebellion was quelled. Both sides explained this as a "reluctance to shed Russian blood," as reported by Prigozhin's Telegram channel and the Kremlin press service.
Reaction from Kazakhstan
President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, has expressed concern over the recent events in his phone call with Vladimir Putin and also acknowledged that the situation in Russia is an internal matter of the country. Vladimir Putin expressed gratitude to the President of Kazakhstan for his understanding.
Shortly after, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev scheduled an extraordinary meeting of the Security Council of Kazakhstan for the morning of June 25th. The President will hear reports from the Prime Minister and heads of the security agencies on the measures taken in response to the situation in Russia. Special attention will be given to the prompt actions taken to neutralize potential negative consequences of the incident for Kazakhstan.
Reactions from Abroad
It is worth noting that news of the military coup and the potential threat of civil war in Russia was received cautiously by countries abroad.
Many Western experts noted that as of June 24th, it was premature to draw conclusions about the further development of events, warning of an excess of disinformation on the internet and a lack of confirmed facts regarding the situation in Russia. Despite this, many sources have speculated about the possible consequences of this incident:
According to former U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations at NATO, Kurt Volker, in an interview with CNN:
"The military coup in Russia is the beginning of the end of the Putin regime."
Volker stated that the military coup by the Wagner PMC could provide an opportunity for the Ukrainian Army to retake the captured territories, after which it could promptly join NATO and strengthen its borders.
Volker also noted that NATO's task in this situation is to continue supporting Ukraine and carefully monitor the escalation of the situation in Russia, emphasising that the events unfolding are solely an internal conflict for Russia.
Experts on Sky News noted that Prigozhin's aggression is not directed towards Putin but towards the Ministry of Defense and the Russian Army, represented by Sergey Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, as indicated by his furious video statements towards them without mentioning Vladimir Putin.
Some leaders of European and neighboring countries expressed their views on the June 23-24 situation on Twitter, as reported by DW news:
"Latvia closely monitors the developments in Russia and exchanges information with allies. Border security has been strengthened, and visa issuance and crossing the border with Russia for Russians will not be considered in light of recent events. There is no direct threat to Latvia at the moment." - Edgars Rinkēvičs, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia
"We closely monitor the situation. The Kremlin regime is reaping what it sowed. Any violence directed towards Ukraine is coming back in the opposite direction. The NATO summit in Vilnius will analyse the new circumstances. The security situation is complex and calls for additional measures. We need to be prepared for any scenario." -Gitanas Nausėda, President of the Republic of Lithuania
"We are closely monitoring the situation in Russia as it unfolds. In touch with European leaders and the G7. This is undoubtedly an internal problem for Russia. Our support for Ukraine and President Zelensky remains unwavering." -Charles Michel, President of the European Council
The Optics of the Mutiny
If we analyse the events, it can be noted that the synchronised rhetoric of the Western experts about the "beginning of the end of the Putin regime" holds true. It is quite evident because, within just 24 hours, Evgeniy Prigozhin has demonstrated that Moscow can be reached in less than a day, with minimal resistance from Russia's internal forces, and with a force of 25,000 people as he claimed. This implies that for the first time in Putin's 23-year rule, his ongoing grip on power will be questioned both outside and within Russia's borders. No, Putin will not be overthrown overnight, but the period of his rule will undoubtedly be divided into two parts: before and after the attempted coup.
Putin showed his weakness and indecisiveness through two actions. First, publicly and angrily calling Prigozhin out as a traitor to the Motherland and a back-stabber in his address to the nation, promising appropriate punishment. Second, instantly forgiving Prigozhin for his actions, closing the criminal case, and forgetting about the incident in less than a day. Thus, the leader of the «Wagner» PMC yas demonstrated that, under favorable conditions, one can reach Moscow from the front lines in just a matter of a day, and that one could^ in theory, betray Putin by organising an armed rebellion and get away with it without facing criminal prosecution and even gain the support of the people, as seen in the videos from Rostov-on-Don after the deal was reached, with Prigozhin being exiled to Belarus. In this scenario, the «Wagner» fighters would remain untouched and return to the front lines, except for those who did not participate in the "march for justice" – they would sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense and join the ranks of the Russian Army. The details of Prigozhin's deal with the Kremlin, under the mediation from Alexander Lukashenko, remain unknown.
Ukrainian sources speculate that one of the provisions of the agreement was the resignation of the top command of the Russian Army, including Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, by order from above. However, Putin remains silent on this matter, not mentioning Shoigu during the coup or after the deal with Prigozhin.
There is an opinion that the failed coup was originally Putin's plan, but then the question arises- "for what purpose?" Condoleezza Rice confidently rejected this version in an interview with FOX, arguing that Putin would not "undertake and plan actions that would cast him in a bad light," which this unsuccessful coup attempt certainly did.
Many Western experts also ponder the question, why Putin negotiated with Prigozhin through Lukashenko and not directly? CNN experts provide an answer to this question, by pointing out that if Putin had dealt with Prigozhin directly, it would have elevated Prigozhin, an oligarch-mercenary, to the same level of power and influence as the president of a superpower in the eyes of all observers. The consequences of such "image-making" for Prigozhin would have resulted in multiplied support from the people and further growth of his political status, which began simultaneously with the start of hostilities in Ukraine. That, Putin cannot afford. Despite this, Western sources do not believe that public support for Prigozhin and his “hero's welcome” in Rostov-on-Don implies that Russians will rise up in another rebellion in the near future.
The "Wagner march" also showed that Russia's internal forces are either incapable of resisting or fully support those who have the courage to go against the Kremlin, as was the case with Prigozhin and his swift capture of Rostov-on-Don "without a single shot fired."
Putin now faces a dilemma: "What to do with Prigozhin?" In essence, his continued presence in Russia is undesirable for the Putin regime, as Prigozhin, has set a coup precedent, and voiced active criticism, if not of Putin himself, then at least of the Russian government, which in itself is a delicate subject, with a fine line between the two variables. Western experts liken Prigozhin to a "time bomb" that can explode at any moment. Prigozhin demonstrated his ability to betray, and in this situation, popular support was an absolute catalyst, at least in three Russian cities: Rostov-on-Don, Voronezh, and Lipetsk. All of this raises questions about Prigozhin's future. Some experts from FOX suggest that agents of the Kremlin will soon try to eliminate Prigozhin, who has been sent to Belarus, isolated from his security detail of 25,000 fighters, comparing it to "a head severed from the body."
Prigozhin himself denies the attributed goal of removing Putin from power, arguing that he sought the resignation of Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov and wanted to demonstrate the weak fortification of Russia's borders, as stated by Prigozhin in his Telegram channel on June 27, 2023. ABC News experts speculate that Prigozhin's coup attempt was not an attempt to seize power but rather a calculated business plan to save himself, protect his reputation, his people, and the image of the Wagner PMC, which, like any business, provides contracted services and has suffered losses in terms of fallen soldiers and a damaged reputation.
How will this impact the course of events in Ukraine? According to Western media, the counteroffensive is still ongoing, with battles taking place in the territories of Bakhmut, Donetsk, and Zaporizhia, and the coup attempt did not have any specific strategic consequences on Ukrainian territory.