By: Sophie Wang
On Friday 6-23-23, a military group that’s paid to work with Russia threatened to attack the country instead. On Saturday, the two armies reached a deal to work together again. But the temporary rebellion has shocked Russia and left President Vladimir Putin weaker.
When Mr. Putin began his war on Ukraine in February, 2022, he was mainly using Russia’s soldiers. However soon, another group of fighters joined the war. These were professional soldiers who were paid by a company called the Wagner Group. The Wagner Group has tens of thousands of soldiers working for it.
Wagner is led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has also spent time in prison. In the past, Prigozhin worked closely with Putin, doing many favors for him. [Experts say Putin used Wagner’s soldiers to do jobs that he didn’t want to ask any Russian soldiers to do. Wagner’s armies have fought for Russia in many other parts of the world besides Ukraine.
Wagner’s soldiers have played an important part in many battles in Ukraine, but as the war has moved forward, tension has grown between Mr. Prigozhin and Russia’s military, which is under Mr. Putin’s control. Russia’s military leaders hate a business leader having so much power. Prigozhin has strongly criticized the actions of Russia’s military leaders.
Recently, a new rule was passed, requiring Wagner’s soldiers to join Russia’s regular army. Mr. Prigozhin didn’t like this idea, since it meant he would lose the ability to control them.
Last Friday, Prigozhin accused Russia’s military of attacking Wagner’s soldiers. In reply, he called for a “march for righteousness”. He rethought 25,000 of Wagner’s soldiers away from the fighting in Ukraine and sent them back to home Russia. Wagner soldiers took control of the city Rostov-on-Don, as well as the bases of the military there.
On Saturday, Mr. Prigozhin demanded that Russia get rid of its top two military leaders, or Wagner’s forces would march on Russia’s capital, Moscow. Mr. Putin soon responded, accusing Wagner’s soldiers of treason and rebellion. He promised strong punishments for everyone involved.
Wagner’s soldiers began the long trip toward Moscow. There was fighting along the way. Russia’s military damaged important roads and bridges, trying to stop Wagner’s soldiers from reaching the capital. Still, Wagner’s forces came within 120 miles (200 kilometers) of Moscow.
On Saturday night, Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, announced that he had reached a deal with the two sides. Wagner’s soldiers would turn around and go back to Ukraine. In exchange, none of them would be punished. Wagner soldiers who hadn’t rebelled would be able to join Russia’s military Prigozhin had agreed to go live in Belarus.
Prigozhin seems to have lost power in the deal, but the events have also left Mr. Putin looking very weak. Mr. Putin has led Russia for nearly 24 years, and was seen as someone who could never be challenged. The rebellion was short, but it showed Mr. Putin struggling for control, forgiving people who attacked him, and turning to an outside leader to help solve his problems.