The feud between the Wagner Group private military company and the Russian Ministry of Defense that has been simmering for months finally exploded into an outright military confrontation.
After an alleged attack by the Russian military on a Wagner Group training camp in Ukraine on Friday afternoon, Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin and his mercenaries have crossed into Russian territory to reach Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian authorities have opened an investigation into Prigozhin for “organizing an armed rebellion.”
And none of this would be happening if Putin had not made one critical and stupid mistake: launching his war of aggression on Ukraine.
The March to Moscow: Should Putin Worry?
Wagner Group mercenaries have crossed into Russia in at least two locations, Voronezh and Rostov. Footage from the ground shows that Prigozhin and his men have captured key facilities in Rostov-on-Don, the capital of Rostov Oblast.
With tanks, armored personnel carriers, and trucks on the streets, Wagner Group fighters have even captured the southern military district headquarters of the Russian military.
Footage from the ground shows Prigozhin negotiating with Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Yunus-bek Yevkurov.
The Russian governor of Rostov asked residents to stay in their homes and avoid the capital’s center.
The law enforcement authorities are doing everything necessary to assure the safety of the region’s residents,” Vasily Golubev, the governor of Rostov, said in a Telegram post. “I’m asking everyone to stay calm and not leave their home without necessity.”
What is most concerning for the Kremlin is that it appears to be almost no fighting between Russian security services and the mutinous mercenaries.
“With very limited evidence of fighting between Wagner and Russian security forces, some have likely remained passive, acquiescing to Wagner,” the British Military Intelligence assessed in its latest update on the war.
Prigozhin, once a close Putin ally and enabler, has called the march to Moscow “a march for freedom.”
“Over the coming hours, the loyalty of Russia’s security forces, and especially the Russian National Guard, will be key to how the crisis plays out. This represents the most significant challenge to the Russian state in recent times,” the British Military Intelligence added.
Wagner Group fighters are likely using a red version of the “Z” war marking to distinguish themselves from the Russian security forces.
Additional Wagner Group fighters further in the north are moving through the Voronezh Oblast toward Moscow. The distance is about 290 miles as the crow flies. But there, the Russian military, FSB domestic intelligence agency, and national guard have taken to the streets with armored personnel carriers and helicopters.
On the orders of the Kremlin, Russian telecommunication companies have restricted access to Google News, which aggregates news stories. The Kremlin is clearly trying to prevent Wagner Group’s insurrection from spreading to Russian society.
Several Russian generals and officials have taken to social media to affirm their loyalty to Putin and implore Wagner Group fighters to stop any mutinous activity.
Sit and Watch
Meanwhile, the United States, Ukraine, and the West can only sit and watch Russia unravel from within.
Wagner Group’s mutiny will certainly affect the morale of the Russian forces on the ground and might be what the Ukrainian counteroffensive needs to achieve an operational breakthrough.
The situation remains fluid, and we will update you with any developments.
A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.