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Commentary: on the Wagner Unrest
 Source:Centre for Strategic Thinking  Views:214 Updated:2023-06-29

Following the insurrection of the Wagner Group, a private Russian military company, over the weekend of 23-24 June, there have been a lot of discussions concerning this matter. According to the information spreading across the media outlets, for months already since the Wagner Group took the order of engaging in the frontline battle with Ukrainian troops, a range of disputes between the Wagner boss and top officials of Russia’s Ministry of Defence had subsequently raised. The disputes between the two sides had kept fomenting more recently, and culminated in the rebellion of the Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Televised address to the nation by Russian President Vladimir Putin ( original photo by Sputnik / Gavriil Grigorov),

In response to the unrest, the Russian authority had taken a series of prompt actions. The Russian president, after receiving reports from various agencies of the Russian government about the domestic situation driven by the insurrection, made a short but appealing and powerful address to the nation, through which, he called on solidarity of the nation at this very critical and challenging moment, and pledged to “take every effort to defend the country and protect the constitutional order as well as the lives, security and freedom of our citizens”.1 Meanwhile, the relevant agencies of the Russian government had received orders and started to take quick actions in handling the unrest including launching a criminal investigation into the Wagner chief himself.

Within less than 24 hours, the unrest, with the involvement of the Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko as a mediator as well as under his coordination with the Russian leadership, was appeased. A deal between Moscow and the Wagner boss was secured. In line with the deal, Prigozhin and Wagner soldiers were offered security guarantee. Later in an address on Monday 26 June, Russian president offered three choices for Wagner fighters: they can sign service contracts with Russia’s Ministry of Defence or other law enforcement agencies, go home, or follow the Wagner chief to move to Belarus.2

Photo by RT,

Amid and after the short-lived insurrection of the Wagner Group, numerous voices have been raised. Some viewed that the insurrection can be a serious threat to the authority of the Russian leadership. Then how to understand the timing of and the cause behind the unrest? And what could be the implications of it to Russia and to the Wagner boss himself?

The disputes between the Wagner chief and the top commanders of Russia’s Ministry of Defence had gradually come up, alongside the Wagner Group’s engagement in the frontline fighting with Ukrainian forces. The Wagner chief Prigozhin ever accused top Russian defence officials of corruption. Then, when the heaviest fighting since WWII, the Bakhmut battle, almost approached to an end in early May, Prigozhin threatened to pull Wagner forces out of the combat ground, due to a serious shortage of munition provided by the Ministry of Defence to Wagner soldiers, as claimed by the Wagner chief. Shortly, Russia’s Defence Ministry promised to provide Wagner with the munition as much as they needed. Then, on 20 May, under the joint efforts of Wagner fighters and Russian regular forces, Prigozhin claimed a full capture of the Bakhmut city.

By late May and early June, Wagner forces were pulled out of the battlefield, with Russian regular troops taking over the positions of the Wagner Group on the frontline at the same time. Thereafter, the disputes between top defence officials and the Wagner chief had continued developing.

Even though it is known to the public that the oral skirmish between the Wagner boss and top officials of the Ministry of Defence had been evolving for months already, the Wagner chief, who had turned himself from a Russian hero into a armed rebel within a short period of time after leaving the battlefield, still surprised a lot.

The timing of the insurrection appeared to be very tricky as well. It took place in a time when Russian troops were engaging in an intensive frontline fighting with Ukraine’s counteroffensive forces. Launching an unrest at such a critical time, if not being properly managed and curbed, can be detrimental to Russia from many aspects. So, what is behind the action taken by the Wagner boss?

It is not certain whether there was any foreign involvement in the unrest before it really happened. Yet, from the Wagner boss’s personal perspective, one important aspect of launching the mutiny was supposed to have a relevance to the Wagner boss’s intention in demanding for recognition. A series of successful operations including the Bakhmut battle on the frontline had made him well-recognized by the public both domestically and internationally. He ever mocked the regular forces for giving up the positions occupied by Wagner fighters, and was critical of the Ministry of Defence for claiming the success made by the Wagner Group. So, it appeared that the Wagner boss wanted Wagner fighters to be valued and recognized differently from Russian regular forces - even though the sacrifices and contributions made either by Russian regular troops or by Wagner forces were all for defending the the same country; - and in the meantime, he wanted that kind of recognition to sustain. According to the media report, for the purpose of justice, the Wagner boss planned to topple two top military officials.3 So, it seemed that, from his perspective, removing the top military officials from their positions could be an alternative way to help achieve his goals, as mentioned there.

Following a number of intense moments in a day, the unrest was appeased. Given that the Russian leadership and relevant Russian government agencies, with the proper mediation of Belarusian president, had very timely handled the unrest, no serious damage has caused when it relates to the implementation of Russia’s agendas including the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. Meanwhile and very crucially, through handling this critical emergency, Russian officials, commanders, and other personnel have proved their competency, flexibility, consolidation, and sense of responsibility when the country was facing a tough moment. These are the great virtues and strength of a nation. In the meantime, it is also in need for Russia to realize that the short-lived unrest has generated certain consequences and rumors. For instance, some may tend to complicate either certain repercussions and rumors caused by the insurrection or the future role possibly played by the Wagner Group chief.

For the Wagner leader, it can be a serious blow to him. Due to the performance of himself and of the Wagner fighters on the battlefield, he had already been well-recognized by the Russians. So, the unrest can be a damage to himself. Nevertheless, he finally made a very timely and prudent decision in calling off further actions of the Wagner Group at the moment when he still had a certain degree of control to the situation. If he failed to do so, within a short while, the scenario will be completely different.


1. For the full text of Russian President’s Address to the Nation on 24 June, please see this link:

2. RT, Putin seals Wagner’s fate, 26 June 2023,

3. Rob Picheta and Katharina Krebs, Lukashenko claims he stopped Putin from ‘destroying’ Wagner group, CNN, 27 June 2023,; also see Rob Picheta, Wall Street Journal: Wagner boss planned to capture top Russian defense chiefs, CNN, 28 June 2023,

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