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The Russian Almost Civil War of 2023 Is Over (For Now)

Russia’s apparent drift toward a civil war that followed ended Saturday with an agreement brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Wagner Group vs. Ukraine. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Wagner Group vs. Ukraine

Russia’s apparent drift toward a civil war that followed ended Saturday with an agreement brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. The agreement achieves what Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and perhaps what Vladimir Putin himself wanted, namely the sacking Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russian military Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov. Both are reportedly out as a result of the deal.

However, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that that would be the case.

Prigozhin made his venom for Shoigu clear as he started his operation on Friday.

“On 24 February [2022] there was nothing extraordinary happening there. Now the Ministry of Defense is trying to deceive the public, deceive the president and tell a story that there was some crazy aggression by Ukraine, that – together with the whole Nato bloc – Ukraine was planning to attack us,” Prigozhin said Friday. “The war was needed… so that Shoigu could become a Marshal so that he could get a second Hero Star… the war wasn’t for demilitarizing or de-Nazifying Ukraine. It was needed for an extra star.”

The analysis offered by Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Rebeccah Heinrichs suggested that the invasion was a ruse to get the two sacked.

“Perhaps one of the only things that makes sense for the conditions of a Putin-Wagner deal: these guys get sacked,” Heinrichs tweeted.

Prigozhin, Wagner Get Amnesty

As for Prigozhin, he gets safe passage to Africa where his mercenaries have become a major force of Russian power. In the short term, Prigozhin will go to Belarus.

Wagner mercenaries have fought in countries across Sub-Saharan Africa and supported Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar against Turkish and Western-backed forces in Tripoli.

His men were sent back to Ukraine where they will resume their positions in the fight against Ukraine.

“The moment has come when blood may spill. That’s why, understanding the responsibility for spilling Russian blood on one of the sides, we are turning back our convoys and going back to field camps according to the plan,” Prigozhin said on an official Telegram channel.

Putin previously accused Prigozhin and Wagner of treason and “armed mutiny.” Prigozhin had vowed to “destroy anyone who stands in our way”.

Numerous analysts suggested that Putin allowed the near Prigozhin coup to take place as a way of outing those who were not loyal to him. They claimed the Wagner offensive reminded them of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s July 2016 coup that he orchestrated to purge followers of exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.

“US intelligence officials believe that Yevgeny Prigozhin, chief of the private Wagner military group, had been planning a major challenge to Russia’s military leadership for quite some time, but it was unclear what the ultimate aim would be, three people familiar with the matter told CNN,” the report said.

Prigozhin Invades Russia Following Prosecution Threat

Prigozhin launched his operation Friday following reports that Moscow planned to prosecute him for armed mutiny. He claimed that Shoigu was responsible for killing a “huge number of our comrades.”

“This is not an armed rebellion, but a march of justice,” Prigozhin said.

He had complained that the Russian Defense Ministry had not properly supplied his men in recent months.

The deal now means that Prigozhin will not be prosecuted.

Prigozhin sent thousands of his mercenaries into Russian territory from Ukraine, capturing the headquarters of the Russian military’s Southern Military District in Rostov-on-Don on Friday. As of Saturday evening Russian time, the Wagner forces began returning with their heavy equipment to Ukraine, according to RIA/Novosti.

Many analysts noted that Wagner lacked the strength needed to seize Moscow and topple Putin. Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Russian Federation’s security council, was among them. He reportedly told Putin that Wagner could not take Moscow before Putin went to bed last night, the General SVR Telegram channel and Twitter feed said, which is reportedly run by a high-ranking official of Russia’s external intelligence agency.

Before being turned away due to the deal with Lukashenko, the Wagner column made it as far as 125 miles from Moscow.

John Rossomando was a senior analyst for Defense Policy and served as Senior Analyst for Counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years. His work has been featured in numerous publications such as The American Thinker, The National Interest, National Review Online, Daily Wire, Red Alert Politics, CNSNews.com, The Daily Caller, Human Events, Newsmax, The American Spectator, TownHall.com, and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia, and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award for his reporting.

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Written By

John Rossomando is a senior analyst for Defense Policy and served as Senior Analyst for Counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years. His work has been featured in numerous publications such as The American Thinker, Daily Wire, Red Alert Politics, CNSNews.com, The Daily Caller, Human Events, Newsmax, The American Spectator, TownHall.com, and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia, and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award in 2008 for his reporting.