Let’s recap what we know about the skirmish that went down between Prigozhin and the Russian leadership.
The last couple of days were pretty chaotic for Russia, after Wagner’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin declared war on Russian military leadership, vowing to punish the military and restoring justice, threatening to kill anyone who tried to stop him. The attempted “march on Moscow” started after the PMC’s leader claimed that Russia shelled one of his camps, killing “2,000 fighters”. The number was later revised to just 30 soldiers.
Earlier, the PMC’s boss accused the Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, and the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, of “genocide of the Russian people” for sending thousands of citizens to die in a war started on false pretenses, without planning and without adequate gear. The Russian Defense Ministry denied Prigozhin’s statements, calling them “untrue and an informational provocation”.
In the meanwhile, the FSB launched a criminal investigation against Prigozhin for calling for an armed rebellion and security forces were put on maximum alert, with all the most important facilities, state authorities and transport infrastructure facilities put under enhanced protection, according to the Russians. Also, in an effort to slow down Wagner’s advance, the government shut down the M-4 highway out of Rostov-on-Don that heads towards Moscow blocking it with trucks and setting checkpoints.
In fact, Rostov-on-Don, about 50 miles from the Ukrainian border, was the first Russian city to be reached by the Wagner column. The PMC claimed to have taken the Southern Military District headquarters, the regional FSB office, the city administration building, the airfield and other military facilities. According to Prigozhin, all of them continued to work normally without interruption, even if the city was occupied.
RUSSIA, ROSTOV-ON-DON – JUNE 24, 2023:
PMC Wagner fighters stand outside the Souther Military District building.
📸 Erik Romanenko/TASS pic.twitter.com/SsIv0VTnIr
— Benjamin Pittet (@COUPSURE) June 24, 2023
In addition to social media posts showing Wagner’s soldiers and heavy armor in Rostov, videos appeared to show Prigozhin meeting with Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Yevkurov and GRU Lieutenant General Deputy Alekseev at the Southern Military District headquarter. The encounter seemed peaceful and uneventful, even if the atmosphere in the video was pretty tense.
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) June 24, 2023
Prigozhin continued to send messages on his channels, saying he wanted to meet with Shoigu and Gerasimov, with the latter reportedly leaving the city just before Wagner’s arrival. At the same time, he continued to accuse the Russian leadership, saying that ”Russian losses in Ukraine are 3-4 times higher than reported by the Russian High Command”, with “up to 1,000 casualties a day”.
While Rostov was taken without shots being fired, Wagner and Russian Army forces begun exchanging shots on the way to Voronezh, about 300 miles north of Roston and halfway to Moscow. The mercenaries eventually took control of the city and its military installations, but their advance resulted in a number of losses for the Russian PMC and regular forces.
A Convoy of Wagner PMC Equipment including at least 2 Pantsir-1 Air Defense Systems were spotted moving through the Town of Buturlinovka in the Southern Voronezh Region. pic.twitter.com/JB1GQmR58B
— OSINTdefender (@sentdefender) June 24, 2023
RA-75917, shot down by a Wagner-operated SAM system, was an Il-22M11 radio-relay aircraft (seen in this photo from 2017). An important combat support platform, its loss is quite significant considering that the VKS operates a relatively small fleet of Il-22M-series aircraft. https://t.co/mG3s4dCNv9 pic.twitter.com/mGnmQAHYbB
— Guy Plopsky (@GuyPlopsky) June 26, 2023
It is being reported that Wagner shot down at least seven aircraft, including three Mi-8MTPR (a specialized Electronic Warfare variant of the Mi-8), a standard Mi-8, a Ka-52, a Mi-35, an An-26 and an Il-22 airborne command and communication aircraft. In fact, at least one Pantsir-S1 and a Strela-10 surface to air missile systems were sighted moving together with Wagner’s armored personnel carriers and tanks.
Even if this is “Over” the Losses to the Russian Air Force are Significant, with FighterBomber having Confirmed earlier today that they have Lost at least 7 Aircraft during Fighting with Wagner PMC Forces within the last 24 hours, including 3 Mi-8MTPR-1 Electronic Warfare… pic.twitter.com/i6fGwbciIr
— OSINTdefender (@sentdefender) June 24, 2023
A Russian Air Force Ka-52 “Alligator” Attack Helicopter is now known to be Responsible for Bombing the Oil Refinery and Depot in the City of Voronezh indicating that this was likely done to prevent its Capture by Wagner PMC Forces which are Advancing on the City from the South. pic.twitter.com/WhgdGjKP9f
— OSINTdefender (@sentdefender) June 24, 2023
Multiple Ka-52 have been employed in the operations, trying to stop the PMC. One of them was used to attack an oil depot in Voronezh, possibly to avoid it being captured by Wagner and used to refuel its vehicles. Another one had a close call with a surface to air missile, avoiding it at the last second thanks to flares and possibly DIRCM defenses. In fact, it appears that the Ka-52s are among the primary users of the L370 Vitebsk DIRCM system.
The onboard defense kit of the Ka-52 of the Russian Aerospace Forces evaded the anti-aircraft missile system “Strela-10” of the PMC “Wagner”. pic.twitter.com/Kpby1CeEeV
— Clash Report (@clashreport) June 24, 2023
While all of the above was happening, the Russian MoD was trying to reach out to Wagner fighters, trying to convince them they were being misled by Prigozhin and they should contact authorities so they could get to safety. Also, Putin addressed the nation, labeling the mercenaries as traitors and saying that they would face an inevitable and brutal punishment. It is worth mentioning that neither Putin nor Prigozhin mentioned the other one explicitly throughout all the events.
As Moscow prepared for the worst, with the evacuation of public buildings and the creation of fortified checkpoints, a much unexpected news came through: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko mediated between Russia and Wagner, resulting in the PMC aborting the march on Moscow and turning back. According to Prigozhin, the decision was taken because Russian blood would have been inevitably shed.
#Update: Just in – Reports that weapon fortification are being set up with machine guns being placed on the main M4 highway that leads from #Rostov to #Moscow. As #Wagner mercenaries are marching forward to the capital of #Russia with Russian federation forces résistance. pic.twitter.com/9lJ4zG5bah
— Sotiri Dimpinoudis (@sotiridi) June 24, 2023
Later, Putin’s spokesperson divulged the terms of the deal: all criminal charges against Prigozhin had been dropped and he would also move to Belarus, Wagner fighters involved in insurrection will not be prosecuted, while the ones not involved would be able to join the regular army. No word on any changes in the Russian military leadership, even if unconfirmed sources reported that Shoigu might have been put under house arrest by the FSB, although he was seen attending a meeting in civilian clothes instead of his usual uniform.
Russian Sources are stating that Russian Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu is currently under a form of “House Arrest” by the FSB pending an Investigation into his Leadership within the MoD and the Theft of Military Funding, Sources believe that Major Announcements regarding… pic.twitter.com/LZCt8y7ly3
— OSINTdefender (@sentdefender) June 26, 2023
Shoigu does not have his beloved military uniform at the meeting. pic.twitter.com/qB4pyjxAdV
— Volodymyr Tretyak 🇺🇦 (@VolodyaTretyak) June 26, 2023
Still, it still seems unlikely that Putin will let Prigozhin get away completely unpunished with what he did. In fact, Prigozhin might share the same opinions as he disappeared for hours after the news about the deal, until some sources reported that he was sighted in Minsk. Also, according to TASS, the investigation against him has not been closed, even if the Cremlin said all charges would be dropped.
Adding to the confusion, it appears that Putin was alerted by his intelligence services that Prigozhin might have been planning something, but apparently decided to not act against him or ignored the alert. The US intelligence community also became aware of a plan of the PMC being in motion, closely observing the situation.
Summary of Prigozhin’s 26 June address to clarify the situation: it was to demonstrate protest against the “destruction of PMC Wagner, not toppling the Russian authorities”:
What were the prerequisites for the March for Justice?
– PMC Wagner carries out tasks around the world.…
— Dmitri (@wartranslated) June 26, 2023
Even more doubts emerged when Prigozhin reappeared and said the among the first reasons for the march on Moscow there was the MoD decision of ordering all PMC troops to join the regular army. Also, he added that the original plan was to take his troops and vehicles to Rostov and turn them over to the MoD, regretting being forced to attack Russian forces in response to their strikes against the PMC.
Another of Prigozhin claims was that all military units encountered by his troops supported the PMC and did not oppose resistance, with the Russian military leadership being highly unpopular among the regular forces. As you can see, there are still lots of questions unanswered and it is possible that last week’s events will have consequences sooner than later.