Truce That Stopped Prigozhin Revolt Against Kremlin Already Faltering

  • Wagner forces halted their revolt on Saturday after striking a deal with the Kremlin.
  • But that peace agreement appears increasingly uncertain as Prigozhin renews his rants against Russia’s military.
  • Putin, meanwhile, has offered conflicting comments on the coming consequences for those involved.

The Wagner revolt may be over, but the chaos in Russia has likely only begun.

In a brief and, at times, contradictory speech Monday night, Russian President Vladimir Putin cast doubt on the tenuous peace deal the Kremlin struck with Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin on Saturday after the mercenary leader spearheaded a short-lived revolt against Russia’s defense ministry.

Prigozhin, a one-time ally to Putin, shocked Russian civilians and international onlookers alike as he led a cadre of troops-for-hire in a “march of justice” over the weekend after alleging the Russian defense ministry conducted a missile strike that killed several Wagner soldiers.

The uprising represents the most damning challenge to Putin’s regime in decades. It was only averted when Prigozhin turned his troops back a mere 120 miles outside of Moscow after the Kremlin said it would drop any criminal charges against the former chef, who agreed in turn to be exiled to neighboring Belarus. 

But by Monday, that agreement appeared precarious as Prigozhin renewed his rants against the Russian defense ministry and Putin offered conflicting comments about the coming consequences for those involved in the mutiny. 

After hours of conspicuous silence following the apparent peace deal, Prigozhin reappeared on Monday, posting an 11-minute audio clip to Telegram in which he offered further context for the reasons behind his weekend attack, while defiantly insisting that his troops would remain independent of Russia’s military.

Prior to the rebellion, Wagner forces, which helped capture the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in a bloody battle earlier this year, had been ordered to join Russia’s forces by July 1 — a command that many of the army’s former convicts and mercenaries were not eager to obey, according to Prigozhin, prompting the group’s weekend march toward Moscow in an effort to avoid being absorbed by Russia’s official military. 

“We were marching to demonstrate our protest, not to unseat the government,” Prigozhin said, according to a translation of his message.

Putin, meanwhile, addressed the Russian public for the first time since Wagner retreated in his Monday speech, which offered little clarity about how Russia plans to respond to the uprising.

The president praised Wagner troops for turning back and pledged to uphold his promise that those who did so can join the Russian military or seek amnesty in Belarus. But Putin also railed against the “organizers” of the revolt — never naming Prigozhin directly — as traitors who will be “brought to justice.” It seemed to be a reversal of the government’s vow to spare Prigozhin from criminal charges. 

Russian state media reported that Prigozhin is in fact, still under investigation, adding even more uncertainty to the legitimacy of the Saturday deal. 

Prigozhin’s whereabouts remain unknown, and neither Telegram post nor televised speech have offered any clarity on the future of Wagner’s 25,000 troops who remain armed. 

Prigozhin still has thriving Wagner activities in Africa that are likely more appealing than a life of exile in Belarus. Several reports this week indicated that Wagner is still actively recruiting.

But even if Wagner troops were to rejoin their Russian comrades on the battlefield in Ukraine, tensions between the two armies, which were already high prior to the revolt, are likely to be intensified by the mercenary group’s attacks on Russia’s military over the weekend, which included the downing of several aircraft that reportedly left some Russian pilots dead. 

US and European officials, meanwhile, are on the edge of their seats waiting to see how the dust settles in Russia.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted “cracks in the facade of Putin’s leadership” on Saturday, praising the civil dispute as an opportunity for Ukraine to make gains while Russia dealt with its internal issues. 

The Biden administration and other Western allies, however, remain concerned that Prigozhin’s uprising has dealt a considerable blow to Russia’s stability, The Washington Post reported.

“We see cracks emerging,” Blinken said on Sunday. “I don’t want to speculate on it, but I don’t think we’ve seen the final act.”

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