In Brief: Prigozhin’s Mutiny

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This weekend, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group, led a mutiny against the Russian military. From Friday night into Saturday, Wagner forces managed to capture the city of Rostov and marched toward Moscow until, on Saturday night, they agreed to stand down after striking a deal with the Russian government. According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Prigozhin will be banished to Belarus and charges against him will be dropped; Wagner fighters who participated in the attempted mutiny will not be prosecuted, and those who did not participate will be offered contracts with the Defense Ministry. The situation is still developing, however, and much remains unclear about the fate of the Wagner Group. We asked four experts to tell us more.

Read more below.

Mike Kofman
Director, Russia Studies Program
Center for Naval Analyses

Prigozhin’s mutiny was ultimately a desperate act of someone who was cornered, on the losing end of a Byzantine power struggle. Prigozhin likely judged that yet another dramatic act would lead Putin to rule in his favor, perhaps encouraged by backers in Moscow who had long provided him cover. Instead, he challenged the system itself, and while he could not provide a political alternative, his actions exposed the weakness of the regime.

It’s important to emphasize that we still don’t know much about how this ends, what the agreement was, and whether it will stick. It remains to be seen what will happen to Prigozhin and Wagner. Putin’s latest statement suggests Wagner soldiers’ options are demobilization, absorption into the Russian military, or exile in Belarus. For now, the damage to Putin’s regime is arguably the clearer part of this saga.


Rob Lee
Senior Fellow
Foreign Policy Research Institute

I think the catalyst for the mutiny was the recent Russian Ministry of Defense announcement that all private military companies and volunteer units would have to sign contracts with them. This was likely an attempt by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, to maintain the status quo and Wagner’s autonomy. But what started as a factional dispute between two powerful Russian figures became a public challenge to Putin. It is too soon to say what the long-term ramifications of this mutiny will be, but the success or failure of Ukraine’s counteroffensive could be a critical factor.


Dmitry Gorenburg
Senior Research Scientist, Center for Naval Analyses;
Associate, Davis Center for Russian and East European Studies, Harvard University

The mutiny staged by Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner private military company over the weekend was a major shock to the Russian political system. Prigozhin most likely started the action in order to prevent Wagner from being subsumed by the Ministry of Defense. The shock, however, comes from the lack of warning by Russian security services and the ease with which, in less than 24 hours, Wagner occupied Rostov and marched to within 200 kilometers of Moscow. Although the immediate threat was averted by a negotiated deal, the damage to the perception of Putin’s domestic power and invulnerability will weaken the Russian political system in ways that will be difficult for Putin to overcome.


Raphael Parens
Eurasia Fellow
Foreign Policy Research Institute

Tensions between the Wagner Group and the Ministry of Defense seem to have finally reached a boiling point, with the Wagner Group even attempting a later-aborted march on Moscow. All of this follows a drawn-out battle for command and control in the war in Ukraine, where Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has accused the Russian Ministry of Defense of threatening the group’s operations by withholding supplies. Although President Putin and Prigozhin have reached a negotiated settlement whereby Prigozhin goes to Belarus and most of his forces in Russia and Ukraine sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense, this feels like a temporary ceasefire rather than a conclusion. Putin or Prigozhin both look vulnerable, and it’s unclear if both can coexist after this near coup.


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