Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 12 July 2023

Wagner Group of leading ‘Armed Mutiny’

Source: By The Indian Express

In a dramatic escalation in tensions between the Kremlin and the mercenary Wagner Group, President Vladimir Putin accused the Yevgeny Prigozhin, the alleged head and owner of the group, of carrying out a “criminal adventuristic campaign” and an “armed mutiny” against the country’s Army. Labelling all those who “took up arms against the Army” as “traitors”, Putin added, “It is an attempt to subvert us from inside. This is treason,” Sky News reported.

The Russian president’s recorded statement came hours after Russian generals called for the arrest of Prigozhin, accusing him of attempting a coup. Russian authorities have also opened an investigation into Prigozhin for “organising an armed rebellion.”

The fallout began after the Wagner chief, in a series of recordings released on social media, claimed that the Russian military launched a missile strike on his men. He, however, didn’t give any evidence. Prigozhin has vowed in the messages to punish “those who destroyed our lands.”

Relationship between the Wagner Group and the Russian army has become increasingly tense in recent months with Prigozhin openly criticising the military’s top brass, accusing them of “corruption and indifference to regular soldiers’ lives,” The New York Times reported.

What is the current situation?

Quoting a Russian security source, Reuters on 24 June 2023 reported that Wagner Group mercenary fighters had taken control of all military facilities in the city of Voronezh, around 500 km south of Moscow. Moreover, earlier in the day, Prigozhin had claimed that he had reached inside the Russian army headquarters in Russia’s southern Rostov-on-Don city and that his men were in control of the city’s military sites. He later released a video on social media, demanding Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and top general Valery Gerasimov come to meet him at the spot.

“We have arrived here, we want to receive the chief of the general staff and Shoigu,” the Wagner chief said in the video. “Unless they come, we’ll be here, we’ll blockade the city of Rostov and head for Moscow.”

The Russian Defence Ministry in response posted a statement on Telegram, saying the Wagner Group fighters have been “deceived and dragged into a criminal adventure” by their leader. It urged them to “contact its representatives and those of law enforcement services, and promised to guarantee their security,” Al Jazeera reported.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Moscow reported that “anti-terror” measures have been implemented in the Russian capital amidst the threats launched by the Wagner Group. “In connection with the incoming information in Moscow, anti-terrorist measures aimed at strengthening security are being taken, " Mayor Sergey Sobyanin said on social media, as per Al Jazeera.

According to NYT, videos circulating widely on social media showed that military and National Guard armoured vehicles had been deployed in Moscow and Rostov-on-Don.

What is the Wagner Group?

The Wagner Group first surfaced during Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Essentially a network of contractors that supply soldiers for hire, the group isn't registered anywhere and its source of funding remains unknown.

According to the European Union and US Treasury Department, the organisation is supported by Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian oligarch and a former close ally of President Vladimir Putin — both the Kremlin and Prigozhin have denied the claims of their association. Apart from Ukraine, Wagner Group is reportedly also active in West Asia and several countries in Africa.

Since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine conflict last year, numerous news reports have claimed that the group — consisting of over 50,000 mercenaries in Ukraine, as per the UK Ministry of Defence — has been supporting Russia’s war effort.

The mercenary organisation played a crucial role in fighting against Ukrainian forces for nearly a year in the bloody Battle of Bakhmut, a small city in Ukraine’s Donetsk province. In the last week of May, the Russian Defence Ministry announced that the country had finally captured the city — the ministry and Putin both credited the Wagner Group for its role in the operation.

The group has been accused of being involved in carrying out murders, mass rape, torture, forced disappearance and dislocation of thousands of people not only in Ukraine but also in Africa. Most recently, it was accused of carrying out massacres, rapes, and torture of civilians in Ukraine’s Bucha that took place in March 2022.

Why have the Wagner Group and Russian military fallen out?

In a series of recordings that Prigozhin posted on 24 June 2023, he accused the Russian military of attacking the group’s encampments and killing “a huge number of fighters,” as per NYT.

“The evil borne by the country’s military leadership must be stopped,” the Wagner chief said in one of the audio recordings released on the Telegram social network and informed that his “25,000” men are on a “march for justice” towards Rostov-on-Don.

He also claimed that Russian army officials lied to Putin about the reasons behind going to war against Ukraine. “The war wasn’t needed to return Russian citizens to our bosom, nor to demilitarise or denazify Ukraine,” Prigozhin said. “The war was needed so that a bunch of animals could simply exult in glory,” NYT reported.

In a scathing response, Lt Gen Vladimir Alekseyev, the deputy head of Russia’s military intelligence agency, said, “This is a stab in the back of the country and the president.” He went on to describe the Wagner Group’s move towards Rostov-on-Don as a “coup”.

The Wagner Group and Russian army most visibly came to blows recently during the Battle of Bakmuth in early May, when Prigozhin complained that the Russians had failed to supply his fighters with sufficient ammunition to capture the city and threatened to pull them out.

According to the Associated Press, Prigozhin has been criticising Shoigu for months now while accusing Russian military leaders of incompetence. “His frequent complaints are unprecedented for Russia’s tightly controlled political system, in which only Putin could air such criticism,” the report said.

Book A Free Counseling Session

What's Today