If you’ve been paying attention to mainstream media nowadays, you may have heard about the Wagner group and their 24 hour march on Russia. It’s one of those moments in history that truly allow you to get a glimpse into the world of a country so far behind in governmental first-world standard that this sort of thing would ever be conceived as happening in the modern day.
Today we’ll give you a rundown of everything you need to know about the Wagner group and their march on Russia. Along with that, we hope to explore just what this says about the world’s largest (and possibly most controversial) country.
Who Are the Wager Group?
Yevgeny Prigozhin is a wealthy businessman, a pro-Russian militia leader (that being Wagner), and a convicted criminal. He was also known as “Putin’s chef”, as he regularly provided catering to the Kremlin. So loyal was he that he founded and now leads a pro-Russian separatist group that backed the forces in eastern Ukraine, though they’re also active within Africa and the Middle East. In fact, it’s believed that they helped support the annexing of Crimea in that same year.
It is, in essence, a militia, and a giant one. Before the war in Ukraine, the estimated count for troops was around 5,000, a number that has changed drastically since then. Yevgeny Prigozhin had stated he was commanding around 25,000 troops, with many of them being Russian prisoners. 80% in fact, according to the US National Security Council. Even if those numbers are inflated, it’s imperative for Russia to assume otherwise, because 25,000 mercenaries is nothing to turn your nose up at. Russia even recognized it as a company back in 2022, despite mercenary forces being illegal there. That has to show you the relationship between Russia and the Wagner group if anything. It’s a militia that has been serving the Russian government and aiding in many military advances, including being the main force behind the capture of Bakhmut in Ukraine. According to Dr. Marina Miron in Kings College, London, the Wagner group was “used by the Kremlin to enforce discipline on the ground.” Dr. Miron claims that Russia paid the Prigozhin for providing the troops. Putin himself stated that approximately $1 billion was given to the group between May 2022 and May 2023 to pay for wages.
“He is one of several wealthy Russians who run private mercenary forces,” Dr. Miron says. “Even the defense minister owns a mercenary company.”
It’s even believed that they carried out a “false flag” attack to give the Kremlin the pretext to invade Russia weeks later. False flags are military or political acts carried out and blamed on their opponents.
It’s believed the name “Wagner” comes from a dormer Russian military officer named Dmitri Utkin, who was a veteran of Russia’s wars in Chechnya. It’s believed he was Wagner’s first field commander, and that the radio call sign he used back in his days in the military was the inspiration behind the group’s name.
It’s now considered a “transnational criminal organization” by the United States.
The Clash Between Wagner and Russia
So how does one go from a Russian boot licker to a powerful rebel that threatens Russia’s very government? Well it’s a variety of things, but it all started during the Ukraine war.
According to Ukrainian troops, fighters of the Wagner group were sent to attack in large numbers on open ground. You don’t have to be a military genius to figure out how bad an idea that is, and as expected, many of them had died.
Initially, Russia’s defense ministry denied that the Wagner group was even fighting within Ukraine, which is understandable. A country having its very own militia group fighting its battles is just one of those things that tanks your reputation. In turn, Prigozhin began complaining about the incompetence of Russian military leaders, particularly Valery Gerasimov, who is the head of armed forces in Ukraine, and Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defense minister. This was followed by a refusal to sign a contract that would put the Wagner group under the direct command of the Russian defense ministry. Prigozhin also threatened to pull his troops out of Ukraine, citing a deficiency in ammunition.
So, imagine for a second that you’re Russia. Or, well, Vladimir Putin, in this case. The militia group you’ve used as an attack dog will no longer listen to your commands due to an alleged lack of competence on your end, and they threaten to simply stop fighting and pull out. What do you do?
You bomb them, of course.
That’s exactly what Prigozhin claimed happened on June 23. It was a day later that his troops seized control of the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. Soon after, they proceeded to march on Moscow to remove its military leadership.
The advance, however, was stopped when negotiations were set up between Prigozhin and the Kremlin. It had been mediated by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko. During these negotiations, Prigozhin agreed to go into exile in Belarus, along with those in the Wagner group who were devoted to him. The rest of the troops will be absorbed into the Russian army.
Any criminal charges against Prigozhin and the others involved in this rebellion have been dropped.
Do Not Sympathize with the Wagner Group
It can be easy to see the group as a patriotic militia that served its country willingly, only to be callously betrayed by Russia. Sometimes it’s easy to root for rebels, who are seemingly sticking it to a corrupt government.
The Wagner group has been accused of a vast litany of crimes.
In 2020, the United States military reported that Wagner mercenaries were planting landmines in and around the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
According to German intelligence, the Wagner group may have been involved in the massacre of many civilians in Bucha in March 2022.
Ukraine prosecutors had said that three Wagner troops had killed and tortured many civilians in Kjiv back in April, 2022. They were accompanied by regular Russian soldiers.
In the Central African Republic, where the Wagner group are also stationed, the UN and French governments have accused them of raping and robbing civilians.
That’s quite the reputation to have gained for having only existed for less than a decade. These forces should not be sympathized with, and they certainly should not be rooted for.
What Does This Say About Russia?
As of now, the fate of the Wagner group remains unsure. Given their main objective was to serve Russia, it’s safe to say that their reach has been limited severely, especially with a giant chunk of them now in the Russian army.
As for Russia? Well, let me put it in a roundabout way.
Russia is a member of the UN Security Council and the G20, and yet no other member has had such a blatant attempt to militarily overthrow their governments in many, many decades. I believe the last time was in 1993, but that doesn’t count, because that was also in Russia. It was a fight between parliament and Boris Yeltson that ended with tanks firing upon the parliament building.
Do we have proxy wars? Yes, of course, and the United States isn’t innocent on that front. However, we don’t bomb the people on our side once they decide to quit. The fact that Russia is even employing the services of a mercenary group made up almost entirely of convicts is something you don’t hear about in other first-world countries.
We hear stories about assassination, coups, and poisonings in pages very early on in our history books. Yet, in this day and age, these sorts of stories are still very prevalent in Russia. Hell, people even make jokes about how well known assassination is in Russia. If you even sneeze in Putin’s presence, you might as well say goodbye to your family.
You can help capture entire cities in Vladimir Putin’s name, but the moment you decide you’re done without his approval, you might as well be signing your own death warrant.
Russia is this enigma of a country that seems to live on a planet of its very own. It’s a first world country that faces third world problems. Putin likes to rag on the west about how we’re trying to force our values onto them, but at least the west doesn’t have to worry about their own military forces trying to overthrow them or have a reputation for assassination. The word “corruption” is synonymous with Russia.
So what does this say about Russia? Many things, and none of them good. The Wagner situation is one of those moments where you’re surprised it happened, but not surprised that it’s happening to Russia of all countries.
To end things off, I’m going to send out my well wishes to Mr. Prigozhin. Something tells me he isn’t long for this world after a stunt like that.