Wagner insurrection plunges Russia into uncertainty. Here's what you need to know | CNN (2024)


The armed insurrection launched by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the bombastic chief of private paramilitary group Wagner, appeared to end as abruptly it started Saturday when the Kremlin said the mercenary agreed to leave Russia for Belarus in a deal apparently brokered by the country’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko.

The crisis began when Prigozhin unleashed a new tirade against the Russian military Friday before taking control of military facilities in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and Voronezh, plunging Russia into renewed uncertainty as President Vladimir Putin faces the biggest threat to his authority in decades.

Putin called Wagner’s actions “treason” and has vowed to crush those behind the “armed uprising.”

Some of Prigozhin’s forces began marching towards Moscow on Saturday before he published an audio recording claiming he was turning them around to “avoid bloodshed” in an apparently de-escalation of the rebellion.

Here’s what you need to know.

What did Prigozhin do?

The dramatic turn of events began Friday when Prigozhin openly accused Russia’s military of attacking a Wagner camp and killing a “huge amount” of his men. He vowed to retaliate with force, insinuating that his forces would “destroy” any resistance, including roadblocks and aircraft.

“There are 25,000 of us and we are going to find out why there is such chaos in the country,” he said.

Prigozhin later rowed back on his threat, saying his criticism of the Russian military leadership was a “march of justice” and not a coup – but by that point he appeared to have already crossed a line with the Kremlin.

The crisis then deepened as Prigozhin declared his fighters had entered Russia’s Rostov region and occupied key military installations within its capital. That city, Rostov-on-Don, is the headquarters for Russia’s southern military command and home to some one million people.

Prigozhin released a video saying his forces would blockade Rostov-on-Don unless Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russia’s top general, Valery Gerasimov, come to meet him.

Amid the rebellion, Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, described developments in Russia as “a staged coup d’état,” according to Russian state media RIA Novosti.

Prigozhin has spent months railing against Shoigu and Gerasimov, who he blames for Moscow’s faltering invasion of Ukraine.

How did Russia respond?

Hours later Putin made an address to the nation that illustrated the depth of the crisis he now confronts.

“Those who carry deliberately on a path of treason, preparing an armed rebellion when you were preparing terrorist attacks, will be punished,” Putin said.

He said “any internal turmoil is a deadly threat to our statehood for us as a nation; it is a blow to Russia for our people and our actions to protect our homeland. Such a threat will face a severe response.”

But Prigozhin responded, saying on Telegram that the president is “deeply mistaken.” He said his fighters are “patriots of our Motherland” and promised: “No one is going to turn themselves in at the request of the president, the FSB or anyone else.” That marked a more direct threat to Putin than Prigozhin had typically deployed in the past.

Russia’s Defense Ministry earlier denied attacking Wagner’s troops, calling the claim “informational propaganda.”

And the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s internal security force, also opened a criminal case against Prighozhin, accusing him of calling for “an armed rebellion.”

“Prigozhin’s statements and actions are in fact calls for the start of an armed civil conflict on the territory of the Russian Federation and are a stab in the back of Russian servicemen fighting pro-fascist Ukrainian forces,” an FSB statement said, calling for Wagner fighters to detain their leader.

Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin speaks inside the headquarters of the Russian southern army military command center, which is taken under control of Wagner PMC, according to him, in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia in this still image taken from a video released June 24, 2023. Press service of "Concord"/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT. Concord Press Service/Handout/Reuters video Who is Yevgeny Prigozhin?

Russian officials meanwhile appeared to take no chances with security measures stepping up in Moscow, declaring Monday a non-workday and imposing a counter-terrorism regime to strengthen security, according to Russian state media and officials.

Russian security forces in body armor and equipped with automatic weapons took up a position near a highway linking Moscow with southern Russia, according to photos published Saturday by the Russian business newspaper Vedomosti.

Meanwhile, in region of Voronezh, there was an apparent clash between Wagner units and Russian forces, damaging a number of cars.

But the escalating situation took a pause Saturday when Prigozhin claimed he was turning his forces around from their march to Moscow.

“We turning our columns around and going back in the other direction toward our field camps, in accordance with the plan,” he said in a message on Telegram.

The announcement comes as the Belarusian government claimed President Lukashenko had reached a deal with the Wagner boss to halt the march of his forces on Moscow. CNN has reached out to Prigozhin’s office for comment.

Who is Prigozhin?

Prigozhin has known Putin since the 1990s. He became a wealthy oligarch by winning lucrative catering contracts with the Kremlin, earning him the moniker “Putin’s chef”.

His transformation into a brutal warlord came in the aftermath of the 2014 Russian-backed separatist movements in the Donbas in eastern Ukraine.

Prigozhin founded Wagner to be a shadowy mercenary outfit that fought both in eastern Ukraine and, increasingly, for Russian-backed causes around the world.

CNN has tracked Wagner mercenaries in the Central African Republic, Sudan, Libya, Mozambique, Ukraine and Syria. Over the years they have developed a particularly gruesome reputation and have been linked to various human rights abuses.

Prigozhin’s political star rocketed in Russia after Moscow’s full invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

While many regular Russian troops saw setbacks on the battlefield, Wagner fighters seemed to be the only ones capable of delivering tangible progress.

Wagner insurrection plunges Russia into uncertainty. Here's what you need to know | CNN (2)

An armoured personnel carrier (APC) is seen on a street of the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia June 24, 2023.

Known for its disregard for the lives of its own soldiers, the Wagner group’s brutal and often lawless tactics are believed to have resulted in high numbers of casualties, as new recruits are sent into battle with little formal training – a process described by retired United States Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling as “like feeding meat to a meat grinder.”

Prigozhin has used social media to lobby for what he wants and often feuded with Russia’s military leadership, casting himself as competent and ruthless in contrast to the military establishment.

His disagreements with Russia’s top brass exploded into the public domain during the grim and relentless battle for Bakhmut during which he repeatedly accused the military leadership of failing to supply his troops with enough ammunition.

In one particularly grim video from early May, Prigozhin stood next to a pile of dead Wagner fighters and took aim specifically at Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of the Russian armed forces Gen. Valery Gerasimov.

Wagner insurrection plunges Russia into uncertainty. Here's what you need to know | CNN (3)

A fighter of Wagner private mercenary group stands guard in a street near the headquarters of the Southern Military District in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, June 24, 2023.

“The blood is still fresh,” he says, pointing to the bodies behind him. “They came here as volunteers and are dying so you can sit like fat cats in your luxury offices.”

Putin presides over what is often described as a court system, where infighting and competition among elites is in fact encouraged to produce results, as long as the “vertical of power” remains loyal to and answers to the head of state.

But Prigozhin’s increasingly outrageous outbursts have sparked speculation in recent weeks that even he could be going too far.

Putin’s national address sets up a direct confrontation at the heart of Russia’s establishment at a time when Ukraine is hoping to make advances during its own summer offensive.

Wagner insurrection plunges Russia into uncertainty. Here's what you need to know | CNN (4)

Video Ad Feedback

Retired colonel on how Ukraine could seize on the chaos in Russia

00:48 - Source: CNN

Putin likened what he now faces to the Russian Revolution in 1917, when the Bolsheviks overthrew Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in the midst of World War One, plunging the country into civil war and eventually paving the way for the creation of the Soviet Union.

“This was the same kind of blow that Russia felt in 1917, when the country entered World War I, but had victory stolen from it,” Putin said.

“Intrigues, squabbles, politicking behind the backs of the army and the people turned out to be the greatest shock, the destruction of the army, the collapse of the state, the loss of vast territories, and in the end, the tragedy and civil war. Russians killed Russians, brothers killed brothers.”

Steve Hall, a former career CIA officer and now CNN contributor, said Prigozhin has placed himself in a hugely precarious position and knows full well what he faces.

Prigozhin “knows precisely what his risk is … which is kind of interesting when you think about it, because that means he must have calculated that he can pull this off … A guy like Prigozhin knows what the risks are and knows that if it doesn’t go well for him, it’s gonna go really badly,” he added.

What happens now?

In a conference call with reporters Saturday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said an agreement was struck with Prigozhin.

“You will ask me what will happen to Prigozhin personally?” Peskov said. “The criminal case will be dropped against him. He himself will go to Belarus.” Peskov added that the Kremlin was unaware of the mercenary’s current whereabouts.

Videos, authenticated and geolocated by CNN, also showed Prigozhin and Wagner forces withdrawing from their positions at Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don.

In the video, Prigozhin is seen sitting in the backseat of a vehicle. Crowds cheer and the vehicle comes to a stop as an individual approaches it and shakes Prigozhin’s hand.

Meanwhile the open disunity within Russia’s armed forces has been greeted with glee and much schadenfreude in Kyiv.

Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said Ukraine will be keen to exploit the turmoil, especially if Moscow is forced to move troops from the frontline.

“Obviously they need to see what is actually happening with the disposition of Russian forces along their defensive lines,” he told CNN.

“If Russian forces at those locations are being withdrawn to fight Wagner – to defeat what is certainly an insurrection at the moment but could be which could become a civil war down the track – then potentially you will see the Ukrainians opening up new opportunities, identifying gaps in the Russian lines that they can push through and exploit.”

“If gaps open up, then they need to be ready to exploit those gaps,” he added.

That is what appeared to have happened. Ukrainian forces launched simultaneous counteroffensives in multiple directions, according to Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar. She said that “there is progress in all directions” without giving any further detail.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Prigozhin’s escalation “almost nullified” Putin and criticized Prigozhin for “suddenly” turning his forces around. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his nightly address, claimed Putin is “very afraid,” saying that the Russian president is “probably hiding somewhere, not showing himself.”

Reporting contributed by CNN’s Nathan Hodge.

Wagner insurrection plunges Russia into uncertainty. Here's what you need to know | CNN (2024)


Is the Wagner Group against Russia? ›

Wagner used Russian Armed Forces infrastructure and was secretly funded by the Russian state until 2023. While the group is not ideologically driven, elements of Wagner are linked to neo-Nazism and far-right extremism.

What is Wagner mutiny? ›

| Photo Credit: AP. The story so far: Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of Russia's Wagner Private Military Company, staged a short-lived mutiny against the country's defence establishment on June 24, pushing Valdimir Putin's Russia into an unprecedented internal security crisis.

Who is Wagner boss? ›

Wall Street Journal: Wagner boss planned to capture top Russian defense chiefs. Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin planned to seize two top Russian military officials when he launched a short-lived mutiny on Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, citing Western officials.

Who is Prigozhin Wagner? ›

Wagner Group. Prigozhin is the self-reported founder of the controversial Kremlin-affiliated private military contractor Wagner Group. On 26 September 2022, Prigozhin stated that he founded the Wagner Group specifically to support Russian forces in the war in Donbas, in May 2014.

What did the Wagner Group do to Russia? ›

Wagner was heavily involved in the capture of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut for Russia. Ukrainian troops say its fighters were sent into attacks in large numbers over open ground, which resulted in many deaths.

Who is funding Wagner Group? ›

The targeted entities in the Central African Republic (CAR), United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Russia have engaged in illicit gold dealings to fund the Wagner Group to sustain and expand its armed forces, including in Ukraine and Africa, while the targeted individual has been central to activities of Wagner Group units ...

What is the Wagner Revolt in Russia? ›

On 23 June 2023, the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organization, rebelled against the government of Russia. The revolt arose amidst escalating tensions between the Russian Ministry of Defence and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Wagner.

Why is Wagner so important? ›

Wagner was responsible for changing the orientation of opera, through developing organically conceived through-composed works, expanding the orchestral resources, encouraging new types of singers and exploring innovative theatrical practices.

Why did Wagner Group revolt? ›

Explained: What Is Yevgeny Prigozhin's Wagner Group, Why Did It Revolt Against The Russian Government? Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin mounted a rebellion against the Russian defence leadership after he claimed attacks on his private military personnel from the regular Russian military.

Is Wagner better than Russian army? ›

Many Wagner fighters are also better equipped than the average Russian soldier, who are often given rusting and outdated kit, according to reports. The Wagner troops' morale is also higher than Russian soldiers, who have taken a battering over the past 16 months of war.

How much are Wagner mercenaries paid? ›

"Between May 2022 and May 2023 the state allocated 86 billion roubles (about one billion euros) for the maintenance of the Wagner Group," Vladimir Putin himself confirmed. On this basis, the secret services of Western countries speculate that a Wagner mercenary's salary of around 3,000 euros is paid in money and gold.

Are mercenaries legal? ›

However, mercenaries are banned by international laws while PMCs are considered legal. The use and recruitment of mercenaries are legally forbidden by the 1989 International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries.

Where is the Wagner leader now? ›

Wagner Group chief now in exile in Belarus.

Is Prigozhin a billionaire? ›

Prigozhin, a billionaire with close ties to the Kremlin, has a longstanding feud with the Russian military command.

Where is Prigozhin now? ›

Prigozhin himself is supposedly in Belarus, although he has not been photographed there recently.

Is Wagner Group still fighting? ›

It seems likely they will continue fighting, mostly because they have few better options. It appears the paramilitary Wagner Group will endure as a fighting force in some form, regardless of whether Prigozhin returns from exile or summons his troops to join him in Belarus.

Why did Wagner march on Moscow? ›

Wagner chief insists he marched on Moscow to stop Kremlin taking control of his mercenary army.

What is the meaning of Wagner? ›

Wagner is derived from the Germanic surname Waganari, meaning 'wagonmaker' or 'wagon driver'. The Wagner surname is German.

How do you become a mercenary? ›

The majority of classic mercenary-like jobs on the market today typically require past military or law enforcement experience. Even better, is previous experience working in the special forces of the army, USMC, navy, or air force if seeking the higher paying security-related jobs available on the market.

What is a mercenary soldier? ›

mercenary, hired professional soldier who fights for any state or nation without regard to political interests or issues. From the earliest days of organized warfare until the development of political standing armies in the mid-17th century, governments frequently supplemented their military forces with mercenaries.

Who was causing revolt in Russia? ›

Economic hardship, food shortages and government corruption all contributed to disillusionment with Czar Nicholas II. During the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks, led by leftist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, seized power and destroyed the tradition of czarist rule.

What was the black army in Russia? ›

The Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine (Ukrainian: Революційна Повстанська Армія України), also known as the Black Army or as Makhnovtsi (Ukrainian: Махновці), named after their leader Nestor Makhno, was an anarchist army formed largely of Ukrainian peasants and workers during the Russian Civil War of 1917–1922.

Why did Russia revolt in 1917? ›

Economically, widespread inflation and food shortages in Russia contributed to the revolution. Militarily, inadequate supplies, logistics, and weaponry led to heavy losses that the Russians suffered during World War I; this further weakened Russia's view of Nicholas II. They viewed him as weak and unfit to rule.

Why did Nietzsche like Wagner? ›

Nietzsche wanted his culture, or future German cultures, to come to view Wagner has he did: a worthy opponent whom one should respect, but also whom must be overcome. In the late works, it is clear that for Nietzsche, Wagner was merely a symbol of German decadence.

Did Wagner inspire Star Wars? ›

The ultimate influence on Williams's vision for Star Wars was Richard Wagner, whose Ring cycle combines a wealth of musical ideas that would inform Williams's work.

Why did Wagner flee Germany? ›

By 1864, however, his expenditure on a grand scale and inveterate habits of borrowing and living on others had brought him to financial disaster: he had to flee from Vienna to avoid imprisonment for debt.

Who was Wagner in ww2? ›

Eduard Wagner (1 April 1894 – 23 July 1944) was a general in the Army of Nazi Germany who served as quartermaster-general during World War II.

Who were the mercenaries and where did they come from? ›

Mercenaries are soldiers who are motivated primarily by money and serve countries and causes they have no connections to. They are an important aspect and contributors in the history of warfare. They have been around for thousands of years, and have provided military services for countries all over the world.

What is the toughest Russian military? ›

Spetsnaz (Спецназ) "Soviet Special Forces" are special forces in numerous post-Soviet states. Historically, this term referred to the Soviet Union's Spetsnaz GRU, special operations units of the GRU, the main military intelligence service.

Who was the best Russian military general? ›

Zhukov is remembered as one of the greatest Russian and Soviet military leaders of all time, along with Alexander Suvorov and Mikhail Kutuzov.

Where does Russia rank in military? ›

In terms of active-duty personnel, they are the world's fifth-largest military force, with 1.15 million and at least two million reserve personnel. Russia plans to expand its active personnel force to 1.5 million by 2026, which will make it the third largest in the world, after China and India.

What is the average salary in Russia? ›

The average annual salary in Russia is 1,240,000 Rubles (RUB) or USD 14,771 (according to the exchange rate in June 2023).

What is the highest mercenary salary? ›

The average salary for Mercenary Creative Group employees is around $94,257 per year, or $45 per hour. The highest earners in the top 75th percentile are paid over $106,648.

How much does a mercenary get paid per day? ›

Some mercenaries make $500 to $1,500 per day. Interrogators are rumored to make up to $14,000 per week. The salary ranges from $89,000 to $250,000 per year. Employer, experience, expertise, specialty, location, and danger potential ultimately determine the paycheck.

Are Americans allowed to be mercenaries? ›

One of the six requirements is that the person must be motivated by a “desire for private gain.” The United States' position, as detailed in the U.S. Defense Department Law of War Manual, is that being a mercenary is not a crime under international law.

Can a U.S. citizen become a mercenary? ›

Mercenaries are usually former military personnel who take on war combat jobs. Most western nations, including the US, have laws that prevent their citizens from acting as mercenaries. On the other hand, PMCs usually work for either the government or private contractors, have a chain of command, and follow orders.

Is the U.S. allowed to hire mercenaries? ›

In 1989 United Nations Mercenary Convention banning the use of mercenaries was initiated and it entered into force on 20 October 2001. As of August 2021, the convention had been ratified by 37 states, and signed but not ratified by 9 states.

Why is Wagner leaving Russia? ›

Wagner chief to leave Russia for Belarus in deal that ends armed insurrection, Kremlin says. CNN.

Is Wagner leaving Russia? ›

The chief of the rebel Wagner mercenary force Yevgeny Prigozhin will leave Russia and won't face charges after calling off his troops' advance towards Moscow, as reports emerged that US spy agencies had picked up signs days ago that he was preparing to rise up against Russia's defence establishment.

Did Robert Wagner serve in the military? ›

During this time he also served on the Navy Boxing Team, and was the Alabama State Golden Gloves heavyweight boxing champion in 1951. After leaving active duty, Bob worked for the Marine Corps Supply Depot in Barstow, California, before returning to active duty in the Navy on January 21, 1959.

Who is the most beloved billionaire? ›

Bill Gates is the most loved in the highest number of countries (37), although he's most hated in three others.

Who is considered the richest? ›

Musk, who became CEO of Tesla in 2008, took the company public in 2010. Its market capitalization soared during 2020 and 2021. In September 2021, Musk became the world's richest person.

What does Yevgeny mean in Russian? ›

Origin:Russian. Meaning:well-born, noble. Yevgeny as a boy's name is of Russian and Greek origin, and the meaning of Yevgeny is "well-born, noble".

Where is the leader of the Wagner Group? ›

Prigozhin is exiled in Belarus.

How many Wagner groups are there in Ukraine? ›

There are an estimated 50,000 fighters from the Wagner Group in Ukraine, White House spokesman John Kirby said in January.

Where is Wagner deployed? ›

U.N. sanctions monitors reported in 2020 that Wagner had deployed up to 1,200 people in Libya and the U.S. military Africa Command said Russian military aircraft were supplying Wagner fighters there.

Why was the Battle of Moscow a turning point? ›

The battle was also one of the largest during World War II, with more than a million total casualties. It marked a turning point as it was the first time since the Wehrmacht began its conquests in 1939 war that it had been forced into a major retreat.

What was the purpose of the Battle of Moscow? ›

Battle of Moscow, battle fought between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union from September 30, 1941 to January 7, 1942, during World War II. It was the climax of Nazi Germany's Operation Barbarossa, and it ended the Germans' intention to capture Moscow, which ultimately doomed the Third Reich.

How big is the Wagner rebellion? ›

A threat to Putin

Residents throughout the region have been advised not to travel and to stay in their homes. Wagner's forces are about 25,000 strong, and did not stand down after appeals from military generals Friday to resign their mission.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Ray Christiansen

Last Updated:

Views: 6440

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (69 voted)

Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Ray Christiansen

Birthday: 1998-05-04

Address: Apt. 814 34339 Sauer Islands, Hirtheville, GA 02446-8771

Phone: +337636892828

Job: Lead Hospitality Designer

Hobby: Urban exploration, Tai chi, Lockpicking, Fashion, Gunsmithing, Pottery, Geocaching

Introduction: My name is Ray Christiansen, I am a fair, good, cute, gentle, vast, glamorous, excited person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.