A Surprise Armed Rebellion, Led by One of Putin’s Most Trusted Officials
By: Ray Zhao
A surprise revolt against the most powerful person in Russia shook the nation last week as Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder and leader of the Wagner Group, a large paramilitary organization, openly rebelled against President Vladimir Putin. The move came after tensions came to a head following alleged attacks on Wagner camps by Russian forces.
The armed rebellion began after Prigozhin posted a video to social media claiming that Russian defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu was responsible for a missile attack that destroyed part of a Wagner camp. Over the next few hours, Prigozhin instigated an armed rebellion by convincing many Wagner fighters to take up arms against Putin.
Prigozhin, who was known as “Putin’s Chef” before the rebellion, had long been a trusted friend of the Russian president. Having gone from a former criminal making hot dogs on the street, to heading catering and takeout for the Kremlin, to head of the Wagner Group, Prigozhin has come far. However, Putin doesn’t trust him because of his hot dogs.
The Wagner Group has recently operated in African countries including Chad and the Central African Republic and on the front lines in Ukraine by offering prisoners amnesty and even large sums of cash to fight. This is the reason why Prigozhin has remained an indispensable ally of Putin’s.
However, after the missile attack accusation, things quickly escalated. After the Russian Justice System launched an investigation into Prigozhin for treason, he quickly launched a military campaign against Putin, taking the major Russian city of Rostov-on-Don as headquarters and moving north towards Moscow.
But a surprise was in store for the many observers of the conflict, who called it the greatest threat to Putin’s hold on power in 20 years. Only 36 hours after it began, Belarusian state media announced that dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko had mediated talks that ended the rebellion. Prigozhin, it reported, would go to Belarus and the Russian government would drop all charges against him.
The agreement came just in time to prevent major Russian bloodshed: A group of Wagner forces numbering in the thousands had just reached Russian defenses 50 miles from Moscow.
While the Wagner Group has disbanded, members still have the opportunity to join the Russian army. And while the uprising caused no major short-term instability, it happened at a time where the war in Ukraine poorly for Russia and the country is facing decreasing morale and a weakened military.