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Putin, Prigozhin and the Wagner Group - What We Know Post-Mutiny Attempt
“Wagner does not exist,” Putin said, in response to questions about the infamous PMC less than one month after the group launched an attempted mutiny in Russia.
So, what do we know about what led up to that dramatic day, Putin’s meeting with the members after they agreed to surrender, and whether the West was influencing Prigozhin when he called to take up arms against the Russian Military?
First, we have the latest comments from Putin, made during an interview with a Russian newspaper on Thursday. He said, “PMC Wagner does not exist. We don’t have a law on private military companies. So, it simply doesn’t exist.”
That one quote really sums up the internal battle that was ongoing between the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Wagner Group in the months leading up to the armed rebellion.
In order to understand how we got to this point, we have to go back to late 2013 when Victoria Nuland was handing out cookies to pro-EU protesters on the streets of Kiev, and working with far-right extremists to kick off the Euro-Maidan uprising.
Barack Obama was less than one year into his second term, and in addition to continuing to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan, destroying Libya, and illegally bombing seven countries, his administration was actively supporting extremist rebels in Syria… and Ukraine.
But while Islamic extremists were making mainstream headlines with their brutal tactics and Toyota trucks in Syria, the Azov Battalions and Right Sector movements of Ukraine with their Neo-Nazi ideology were largely overlooked, or simply covered up, because they were carrying out the Obama Administration’s goal of getting Ukraine away from Russia and closer to the EU.
That mission culminated in February 2014, with the overthrow of the Democratically-elected government in Ukraine. The result may have been pro-West, but it was staunchly anti-Russian, which presented a problem for the Eastern half of the country.
Because, as CNN was willing to admit back in 2014, it was only the Western half of Ukraine supporting the pro-EU candidate in the 2010 presidential elections.
Meanwhile, the Eastern half of Ukraine identified Russian as their native language.
It was the new Ukrainian leadership’s mission to eradicate Russian language and culture that led the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics to declare independence in April 2014 – setting themselves up to spend the next eight years being attacked by the Ukrainian Government they refused to recognize.
Now, I know I’m really getting into the history here, but stay with me, because in order to understand the Russia of 2023, we have to explore the Russia of 2014, and the climate that led to the existence of the Wagner Group in the first place.
Because it wasn’t just the Republics in the Donbass that were fighting back against the coup in Kiev—it was also Crimea, which was gifted to Ukraine within the Soviet Union back in 1954.
The Western-sponsored unrest led to a referendum that saw 97% of the people in Crimea vote to return Russia – a move that was made official under Russian law in March 2014.
But even though it was a peaceful transfer of power—because it was what the people wanted—that’s not how the mainstream media portrayed it. They used phrases like “military occupation” and “annexation,” to argue that the democratic will of the people couldn’t possibly be legitimate this time around.
The case of Crimea caused panic within the Obama Administration, and they used it to justify sanctions against Russia and the removal of Moscow from what was then the G8 Alliance.
For the next eight years, the tensions between the West and Russia continued, as did the fighting in the Donbass. That’s where the Wagner Group comes in…
While private military companies may not be legal INSIDE of Russia, they are legal outside, which made the Donbass the perfect legal gray area for the Wagner Group to exist. For years, Russia denied any ties to the PMC, as did the group’s own leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
That may seem hard to imagine now, when Prigozhin is the proud face of Wagner, and Putin revealed last month that the group is entirely dependent on support from Russia… receiving more than $1 BILLION in state funding between May 2022 and May 2023.
It’s a reminder that in the same way the rules are different for the Wagner Group, compared to the Russian Military, so is the motivation… while Russian soldiers are serving their country, Wagner fighters are mercenaries. They are in it for the money. And they were paid handsomely for their work.
But everything changed in September 2022 when referendums were passed in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, as well as the regions of Kherson and Zaporozhye, to join Russia.
Suddenly, the Wagner Group’s special status was in danger, and with it came new restrictions on ammunition and supplies provided by the Russian Defense Ministry… as well as a July 1 deadline for members of the group to sign contracts with the Russian Military.
Yevgeny Prigozhin quickly made it clear that he wouldn’t be giving up his power without a fight, and he became increasingly outspoken on social media, and increasingly critical of Russia. That included a tirade in which he showed images of his dead troops and accused the Russian Defense Ministry of trying to kill his forces by rationing their ammunition.
He capitalized on the views of those in Russia who feel that Putin’s Government isn’t being aggressive enough—that it should have taken out Zelensky and captured Kiev on Day One, instead of pledging to target energy infrastructure and military sites, with the focus on limiting civilian causalities.
Prigozhin made his worth known in the battles for Soledar and Bakhmut, working to convince the public that the Wagner Group was capable of winning the kind of brutal, bloody battles that the Russian Military wouldn’t attempt.
We also have to remember that he was surrounded by fighters who viewed him as their god. That included an unknown number of convicted criminals who went from serving a sentence in a prison cell, to fighting on the battlefield.
So, what was it that led Prigozhin to take up arms and stage an attempted mutiny against the Russian Military on June 23?
Was it the looming deadline and the reality that he would have to submit to the leadership of Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, who he accused of mishandling the war in Ukraine? Was it a false sense of confidence, with everyone around the Wagner Chief telling him that he was right, thus making him believe he had more support from the public than he actually did? Were some of those voices coming from the West, and were they trying to convince Prigozhin that Putin had betrayed him and that now was the time to fight back? Or was it a combination of all of the above?
Well, the truth is that we may never know exactly what happened. But we do know that anonymous U.S. officials told the New York Times that Washington knew about Prigozhin’s plans days in advance, while other officials told Axios that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent a message to State Department staff as the uprising was happening, warning them NOT to talk about it.
It would appear that Joe Biden received the same message, as he hasn’t had much to say about it either. But then again, the U.S. President also doesn’t seem to know what year it is, or which war his country is currently funding… As he said on June 28 that Putin was “clearly losing the war in Iraq.”
Then there’s the Russian President… If there has been anything to learn about Vladimir Putin over the last nine years, it is that he is strategic and methodical in everything he does and says. And that includes his response to the Wagner Rebellion.
It began with a statement on June 24, in which he referred to the uprising as “treason” and vowed a harsh response.
“Those who organized and prepared the military rebellion, who raised arms against their comrades-in-arms, betrayed Russia—they will be held accountable. I urge those who are being dragged into this crime not to make a fatal and tragic mistake, but make the only right choice to stop participating in criminal acts,” Putin said in his address.
Hours later, Prigozhin was calling off his march to Moscow, following talks mediated by the president of Belarus. It appeared that Alexander Lukashenko was able to convince the Wagner Chief that given the fact he clearly didn’t have the kind of public support he initially believed he had, his march for justice would turn into a march to his death if he continued.
Prigozhin and his most loyal followers did make it to Moscow eventually—as the Kremlin confirmed last week that Putin met with a group of nearly three dozen Wagner members on June 29 to hear their version of events and to discuss their options moving forward.
Western media were quick to capitalize on this news, insisting that such a meeting, along with the claim that the Wagner members wouldn’t deny their allegiance to their leader, made Putin look weak.
It’s another reminder that media are so stuck on their narrative that they won’t consider anything else. If no one in Russia ever questioned Putin, then they would claim that’s because he’s a dictator and no one dares to question him. If someone speaks out against his government, then they claim it’s because Putin is weak and he doesn’t have enough control. The media is so obsessed with claiming that Putin is a dictator, and with their hunger for some kind of “civil war” to break out inside Russia, that they don’t know what to do with the short-lived mutiny attempt, or the news that Putin was willing to sit down and have a discussion with the people involved to find out why they took part in it.
So, where does that leave us? Well, the Wagner PMC is in the process of surrendering its stockpiles to the Russian military, which includes 2,000 pieces of military hardware and 20,000 firearms. Some members have signed contracts to join the Russian military, while others were seen training military members in Belarus.
Prigozhin is also supposed to be in Belarus, according to his deal with Putin and Lukashenko to end the mutiny. But if you ask the internet, the Wagner chief is somehow every and nowhere all at once, and it will likely stay that way for years to come.
As for Russia—whether the U.S. and its European allies had a hand in orchestrating the rebellion in an effort to sow chaos and divide, or whether they saw it as a sheer stroke of luck right out of Joe Biden and Victoria Nuland’s playbook—the one thing the attempted mutiny made clear is that Putin isn’t going anywhere and his military continues to stand by him, and after unprecedented sanctions and historic attempts to bring the Russian economy to its knees, there is nothing that makes the West more frustrated than the current state of unity in Russia—and that’s something everyone should be talking about.