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Putin seeks to maintain Wagner Group, but without Prigozhin – ISW

15 July, 2023 Saturday
19:37

Russian leader Vladimir Putin intends to keep the Wagner PMC as a cohesive fighting group after the mercenaries' armed uprising last month, but is seeking to separate the company's founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, from its leadership

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This was reported by analysts at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

In an interview with the Russian news agency Kommersant on 13 July, the Kremlin leader confirmed that he had met with Prigozhin and 35 Wagner commanders on 29 June.

Putin claimed that he offered the fighters the option to serve under a Wagner commander (callsign “Seda”) who has commanded Wagner forces for the last 16 months.

Experts note that this once again confirmed their earlier assessment that the Kremlin is seeking to preserve Wagner's PMC as a "cohesive fighting force, separating it from Prigozhin".

Putin also claimed that many of Wagner's commanders allegedly "nodded" in response to his proposal, but that Prigozhin did not see this and said that his mercenaries did not agree with the decision.

"Putin likely emphasized Prigozhin’s differing response to frame Prigozhin as a problem in contrast to loyal Wagner commanders," the report says.

War criminal and former Russian officer Igor Girkin noted that Putin's recounting of the June 29 meeting portrays the Kremlin leader as having given in to Prigozhin's demands, but the final outcome of the meeting is unclear.

Answering a direct question from the propagandists about the future of Wagner's group as a combat unit, Putin continued to support the absurd notion that Russia allegedly has no private military companies (PMCs).

Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said on July 14 that Wagner Group is not currently involved in military operations in Ukraine in any significant support or combat roles.

ISW analysts have previously had Russian sources who confirmed that Wagner PMC’s forces are no longer fighting in Ukraine.

On July 13, Putin said that he had met with Wagner fighters and stressed that legally, Wagner PMC organisation does not exist.

What is known about Prigozhin's mutiny

For several months, there has been a conflict between Yevgeny Prigozhin, the financier of Wagner PMC, and the Russian Ministry of Defense. However, the situation escalated quickly on the evening of June 23.

Allegedly, Russian troops launched a missile attack on the Wagner base. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner PMC, announced a "march of justice" and stated that 25,000 mercenaries were heading to Moscow after the Russian leadership refused to hand over Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

The militants entered several regions and moved towards the Russian capital, while at the entrance to Moscow they built firing points, dug trenches and mobilised all security forces.

On June 24, Wagner’s fighters took control of Rostov-on-Don, where they initially gathered around the headquarters of the Southern Military District, and then entered the city of Voronezh. Their convoys, which had diverted from the Ukrainian border, were moving towards Moscow. Military aircraft and artillery under Shoigu's control attempted to stop them. The units of Wagner PMC were last spotted in the Lipetsk region. In Moscow itself, defensive positions were established, trenches were dug, and all security forces were mobilized.

However, on the evening of June 24, the press service of the self-proclaimed President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, released a statement in which the head of the Wagner PMC stated that he was ready to stop the advance of his mercenaries' military convoys, which were already approaching Moscow, and to reach an agreement with the Kremlin. Prigozhin allegedly agreed on this during a conversation with Lukashenko.

Subsequently, Prigozhin and all his fighters left the headquarters of Russia's Southern Military District. Russian leader Vladimir Putin promised that Prigozhin would be able to go to Belarus, and Russia would drop the criminal case against him.

On June 26, Putin gave a speech in which he offered the Wagner PMC fighters three options for future actions: join the Russian Defense Forces, go to Belarus with other PMC members, or return to their families.

On June 27, the Federal Security Service of Russia announced that it dropped the criminal case related to the armed plot, in which Wagner PMC leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was involved.

Meanwhile, Wagner leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said that the main goal of the mutiny was "to prevent the destruction of the Wagner PMC, not to overthrow the government" and called it a "march of justice." He also claimed that the offensive on Moscow had stopped because the mercenaries "did not want to shed much blood."

On the same day, the self-proclaimed President of Belarus confirmed the arrival of Yevgeny Prigozhin in the country. According to him, the Wagner mercenaries who arrived with him would not guard the Russian tactical nuclear weapons stationed there.

On July 3, Russian media published photos taken by local residents showing an alleged Wagner camp in the Mogilev region of Belarus. In contrast, Ukrainian intelligence noted that Prigozhin is unlikely to move all the fighters to Belarus and will not stay there permanently. It is obviously a matter of redeploying some of the Wagner soldiers. 

On July 6, Lukashenko promises to discuss Wagner PMC's fate with Putin, convinced that Russian leader won't kill Prigozhin

On July 10, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that five days after the mutiny, Putin met with Prigozhin in the Kremlin.

On July 11, the Belarusian Ministry of Defense stated that the Wagner mercenaries would train the Belarusian army.

On July 14, media reported that training sessions with units of the territorial troops were taking place near Asipovichy (Belarus), where Wagner PMC fighters were acting as instructors in some military disciplines.

On July 15, a large Wagner PMC convoy arrived in Belarus.

During the mutiny in Russia, some of the mercenaries of Wagner's private military company reached the Voronezh-45 base, a storage site for Russian nuclear weapons, according to Ukrainian intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov.

Read more on the events here.

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