Putin in a Delicate Situation

Parisa Pasandepour
14 Min Read
Putin in a Delicate Situation

Putin in a precarious position

The hidden truth

According to Iran Gate, Putin’s statements and Peregin’s after the Wagner Group insurgency not only failed to resolve ambiguities but also raised doubts. However, one thing is clear: the Kremlin leader is certainly not known for betraying and there is always a feeling that something still needs to happen.

While different accounts of the events that took place on Saturday, June 24th in Russia are quoted, it took two days for Vladimir Putin to break his silence and announce that the danger had passed by addressing Russia.

President Putin said that the insurgents failed to disintegrate Russia and the country was saved from destruction thanks to the loyalty of its army and security services. In a brief speech, the Kremlin leader stated that he prevented a bloodbath because this uprising was doomed anyway. However, before the march stopped 200 kilometers from the capital, he refrained from ordering the shooting of rioters and tried to show a compassionate face and restore his credibility.

Putin then assured that he would adhere to his agreement with Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Belarus who played the role of mediator, and would give the Wagner quasi-military personnel the opportunity to go to Belarus without the need for a trial, or if they wish, they can join the Russian Ministry of Defense. Two days after the uprising of the Wagner mercenaries, the President tried to show that the situation was still under his control and everything had returned to normal, but his attempt was not very convincing. The Kremlin leader is not known for traits such as forgiveness and betrayal, and he never mentioned the name of the leader of the insurgent Wagner mercenaries, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in his speech.

At the same time, special security measures in Moscow were immediately canceled, and Sergei Shoigu, the Minister of Defense, was seen visiting soldiers on the front lines in a video broadcast on television. However, some prominent Russian bloggers who follow the events of the conflict in Ukraine said that this visit took place on Friday, one day before the uprising of the Wagner group on the border area of Belgorod.

The truth about Prigozhin

Yevgeny Prigozhin also tried to justify himself by saying that it was a protest, not a coup, and to express his true opinion about this uprising that caused concern for a few hours that Russia might be involved in a civil war. He announced that their action was a protest against the top military commanders, Defense Minister Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov, because they had ordered private paramilitary groups, including the Wagner Group, to sign a contract with the Ministry of Defense by the beginning of July.

Prigozhin said, ‘I and other Wagner officers did not accept this and we intended to leave our weapons in Rostov on June 30. But they bombarded us and we started a Justice March towards Moscow to protest.’ The leader of the Wagner Group emphasized that they halted the advance 200 kilometers from the capital to prevent any Russian bloodshed and thanked Lukashenko for finding a solution to end the conflict.

However, there is still no clear idea about what happened during the heated hours on Sunday and what its consequences will be. The fact that Perigogin himself is still accused of armed rebellion by the Office of the Prosecutor General is evidence enough, and there is no confirmation of his current whereabouts, whether in Minsk or elsewhere.

So far, all we know is that on Saturday, June 24, about 25,000 insurgent mercenaries managed to capture the strategic city of Rostov in southern Russia without firing a single shot, and then moved hundreds of kilometers towards Russia without encountering any resistance.

While the official narrative is that the authorities wanted to prevent bloodshed, other sources have raised different interpretations. One of them is that the lack of resistance against the mercenaries by forces directly affiliated with the Kremlin, such as the Interior Security Service (FSB) and the National Guard, was guaranteed, and the goal was to allow Perigogin to gain points in the confrontation with the army under the command of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, whom even Putin has no friendly relationship with.

Protest or attempt at a coup

In summary, this uprising was the result of deep tensions and conflicts between various factions and bloggers who advocated for confrontation and war, but increasingly criticized the management of it by the armed forces and the Russian army. Therefore, it is currently unclear what the fate of the Wagner Group and its leader will be, but it cannot be denied that a significant shift in the leadership of the Ministry of Defense is taking place.

What changes will occur in Africa?

In the list of statements made after one of the most chaotic days in recent Russian history, Sergei Lavrov’s words cannot be ignored. In an interview with Russia Today, he assures that the Wagner quasi-military forces will not withdraw from Mali and Central Africa, contrary to popular belief, and will continue their activities in these two countries.

The Wagner mercenaries gained fame for the first time during the attack on Crimea in 2014, when they supported the Russian army. Then we saw them in Syria alongside Bashar al-Assad’s forces, and later they reached Libya in Africa, where they supported General Khalifa Haftar.

Wagner Group is a private military company, but it is also an ambiguous network of companies and organizations with political influence, which benefits from implicit support from the Russian government. In January 2023, the United States designated this group as an international criminal organization due to numerous brutal executions of non-combatants documented by the United Nations in the Central African Republic and Mali. According to various studies, Wagner Group has its operational and economic base in Africa and operates in thirteen different countries: Libya, Eritrea, Sudan, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, South Sudan, Guinea, Central African Republic, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.

In some cases, their cooperation is of a military nature, while in other cases, it is purely commercial. Their goal is to obtain economic benefits by exploiting local resources and, on the other hand, to create a network of countries close to Russia’s positions and in contrast to the West.

However, it is in the Central African Republic where they have established their most profitable companies. In 2018, the Wagner Group participated in facilitating the transfer of weapons, providing training and protection, and swiftly carrying out military operations against armed insurgents who sought to attack the government of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. After gaining control over security, their companies entered the natural resources sector with excellent access to gold and diamond mines, as well as gaining control over certain ministries.

A similar situation occurred in Mali following two coups, which strained the relations between Bamako and Paris, a former colonial power. After the failure of Operation Barkhane, the French counter-terrorism force, the withdrawal of France opened up the field for the Russians. However, the Malian government denies the presence of Wagner mercenaries and only recognizes the presence of Russian trainers who have entered the country based on a cooperation agreement with Russia.

Setting aside the treason allegations made by Vladimir Putin against Prigozhin, it appears that the Russian Foreign Minister directly addresses his partners in countries where Wagner mercenaries, acting as an armed branch of the Kremlin, are active, to assure them of the continuation of Wagner Group’s activities.

Unexpected news in the Prigozhin saga

According to Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Belarus and the leader of the Wagner Group, who rebelled against the Kremlin’s military leadership on Saturday, June 24, has returned to Russia, according to the state news agency Yelta. Lukashenko said on Thursday in Minsk that Yevgeny Prigozhin is in St. Petersburg. The President added that it is possible that the leader of the Wagner mercenaries has gone to Moscow.

After the suspension of their march 200 kilometers from Moscow and in accordance with the agreement between Putin and Lukashenko, Prigozhin left Russia and went to Belarus. The founder of Wagner has not appeared in public since the end of the rebellion until today, according to Interfax news service. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, said on Friday to reporters that the Kremlin is not looking for Prigozhin’s whereabouts and has no intention of doing so.

Based on an agreement mediated by Lukashenko, Putin agreed that Prigozhin and any Wagner fighters who want to join him would go to Belarus. Putin promised to refrain from criminal investigations against them due to armed rebellion. However, it now appears that this deal is being dissolved. When asked by Lukashenko about rumors that Putin wants to eliminate Prigozhin, he replied that some Kremlin officials support this solution, but it would lead Russia into a civil war.

In response to the question of what will happen later, he said that strange things happen in life, but if you think Putin is so evil and vengeful that he will eliminate him tomorrow, I say no, that won’t happen.

The United States does not know where Prigozhin is.

The United States has no information about the whereabouts of Prigozhin. Andrew Bates, deputy spokesperson for the White House, announced this in a press briefing and added that we continue to monitor the Wagner Group.

With almost two weeks passed since this incident, there is still no clear understanding of what happened at the higher levels in Russia, or even if anything happened. The statements of Putin, Prigozhin, and others have not contributed to the discovery of facts or understanding of the consequences. Should Wagner’s adventure be archived and the political fate of both parties be sealed? It is still impossible to definitively judge and in an atmosphere of uncertainty, every hypothesis remains suspended for now. However, it is highly unlikely that the Kremlin leader will easily brush aside this matter and turn a blind eye to this grave offense.

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Master's Degree in International Relations from the Faculty of Diplomatic Sciences and International Relations, Genoa, Italy.