Episode 265 | Recorded: June 30, 2023
One of the most riveting events this past weekend was the unexpected bout that Russia had with domestic instability. Tensions between a close, perhaps now former, ally of president Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and the military leadership of Russia boiled to an all out conflict, which Putin called a “mutiny” and “treason”.
Prigozhin is one of the public faces behind a private army called the Wagner Group, which has been instrumental not only in the current war in Ukraine, but also acts as a de-facto, yet unofficial military arm of Russian foreign politics in far away places like Africa, Middle East, etc.
Within 24-48 hours Putin had dealt with the conflict, which is pretty amazing by itself.
The Wagner Group became engaged in the war in Ukraine fairly early on, and was most famously instrumental in conquering the city of Bakhmut, albeit paying a high price in terms of lost manpower. However, there’s been growing tension between Prigozhin and the Russian defense ministry. Prigozhin has accused the defense leadership of incompetence, bungling the war, and lying to the “Russian people”, which we figured he meant as lying to Putin, to cover it up. Additionally, he has routinely accused the defense ministry for not supplying the Wagner Group with necessary arms to carry out their mission, and essentially throwing his forces to the wolves, defenseless.
The events culminated with Prigozhin announcing a March on Moscow on June 23, in which Prigozhin claimed that tens of thousands of Wagner troops took part in. There were reports of fighting with the regular army and apparently there were deaths on both sides as well as evidence of downed equipment such as helicopters.
Defense minister Sergei Shoigu and the Chief of the Generals Staff Valery Gerasimov appear to be allies. Gerasimov replaced General Sergei Surovikin, who then assumed command of the operations in Ukraine. Only in the past day, Surovikin has been detained. There are reports that Surovikin had advance knowledge of the Wagner insurrection.
Reportedly, Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko, who personally knows Prigozhin, had a lot to do with brokering the deal between him and Putin. Across the various sources we’ve seen, Prigozhin never directly accused or mentioned Putin himself, so it appears that he was careful to not burn certain bridges there.
As part of the deal, Prigozhin went to Belarus. The Wagner Group fighters were essentially amnestied and to be absorbed in the Russian defense forces.
The west was careful to not comment while events in Russia were unfolding, but since the apparent end of events and the striking of the deal, mostly the west has tried to portray Putin as isolated and weakened. On the other hand, some also say that despite everything Putin is still the preferred leader in Russia to hold the reins of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, because if not him, then who?
With Prigozhin’s departure for Belarus and the dissolution of the Wagner Group mercenary army, it seems that for now this act of Wagner’s Russian Opera may be over.
Earlier you said that “everyone benefited from this”, including Putin.
You mentioned that the use of private military contractors (PMC) is now the norm so to say. Some call them mercenaries. You mentioned that the US popularized their use. France has its “foreign legion”. Turkey makes use of Syrian fighters. Even the United Nations makes use of PMCs.
Yet, the line between PMCs and “mercenaries” is thin. And there is an international convention called the UN “Mercenary Convention” which prohibits the use of mercenaries.
And Armenia has signed and ratified this convention right during the 44 day war.
That concludes this Conversations On Groong episode**. **As always we invite your feedback, Thanks to Laura Osborn for the music on our podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe to us on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.
Anna Abrahamian is a geopolitical analyst who splits her time between Moscow and Athens. Having obtained training in international law, Anna has worked in such noteworthy institutions as the Defense Analyses Institute in Athens as well as the Crisis Group in Brussels. Today, Anna provides her analysis on geopolitics and Armenian politics to her followers on social media and you can find her on various platforms, including Facebook, Telegram, and Youtube.
Hovik Manucharyan is an information security engineer who moved from Seattle to Armenia in 2022. He co-founded the ANN/Groong podcast in 2020 and has been a contributor to Groong News since the late 1990s.
Asbed is founder of the Armenian News Network Groong and co-founder of the ANN/Groong podcast.