Today marked an astonishing chain of events, culminating in the Head of Russia’s largest private military company, the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, initiating a coup within the Russian Federation. Prigozhin declared his objective was to depose the Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, and the Chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, stating that anyone obstructing his path would be eliminated.
The day began with the release of an exclusive interview with Prigozhin, wherein he asked some difficult questions, laid bare the greatest falsehoods purported by Russia’s top officials, and disclosed the horrifying reality of the ongoing war.
Prigozhin revealed the key reason behind Russia initiating the war was twofold:
- Defense Minister Shoigu’s desire for historical recognition as a Marshal and twice-decorated Hero of the Russian Federation
- the ambitions of the Russian elite to confiscate Ukrainian assets.
He disclosed how this elite had prepared Putin’s relative, Viktor Medvedchuk, to assume the role of the new Ukrainian president, who would facilitate the Russian elite’s plunder of Ukrainian businesses.
Prigozhin highlighted the rampant corruption that left the Russian army unprepared for large-scale offensive operations. He brought to light the fact that they recognized their so-called special military operation as a complete disaster within the initial three days, as their only competent forces were dispatched on fatal missions to Kyiv, leading to thousands of casualties.
In conclusion, he stated that Shoigu and Gerasimov must be held accountable for the ensuing genocide, which is why he initiated legal proceedings against them with the Investigation Committee.
- Prigozhin released an interview in which he stated that the Russian MoD intentionally deceived the Russian public and Putin about an impending Ukrainian offensive with NATO support in 2022 and about the increase in Ukrainian aggression before the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
- Prigozhin asserted that the situation in eastern Ukraine on February 24, 2022, was no different than the previous eight years of hostilities.
- Prigozhin suggested that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was prepared to negotiate with the Kremlin but that the Russian leadership refused to abandon their maximalist positions.
- Prigozhin accused the Russian miliary leadership of launching the full-scale invasion for self-promotion and claimed that Shoigu advocated for the invasion in order to achieve a higher rank and state awards.
- Prigozhin accused Russia’s oligarchs of supporting the invasion of Ukraine for similar reasons of personal benefit.
- Prigozhin claimed that Russia’s oligarchs wanted the Kremlin to install former Ukrainian politician and Kremlin ally Viktor Medvedchuk as the new Ukrainian president after the removal of the Ukrainian government so that Medvedchuk would divide the assets of occupied Ukrainian territories between the oligarchs.
- Prigozhin’s rejection of the justifications of the war is not a rejection of the war itself, as he argued that the fighting in Ukraine is a “holy war with those who offend the Russian people.”
- Prigozhin’s attack on the Kremlin’s justifications of the war is likely meant to legitimize the potential removal of the Russian security and business elite from power without directing calling for an end to Putin’s war.
Four hours post the interview, Prigozhin released a video showing the devastating aftermath of an attack on Wagner forces’ camps located deep in the rear. He accused Shoigu, who had recently visited the Rostov region, of orchestrating the special operation to eliminate Wagner forces personally. Prigozhin claimed their camps were targeted with rockets and artillery, followed by an assault from helicopters.
Announcing his decision to gather all his forces and march toward Moscow to overthrow the Russian Ministry of Defense, Prigozhin provoked the Russian Ministry to launch a criminal investigation against him for inciting a coup, warning him of a potential 20-year prison sentence. The Ministry also seized Wagner’s headquarters in Saint Petersburg and barred all media outlets from mentioning Prigozhin’s allegations and declarations.
Despite these threats, Prigozhin did not retreat. A series of hacker attacks on Russian channels commenced, broadcasting his declaration of advancing towards Moscow. The seriousness of the situation prompted the Russian Ministry to shut down the internet in certain regions, ready their special forces, close off borders, highways, and enact the Fortress Plan.
As a desperate final move, the Russian Ministry of Defense issued a series of appeals to Wagner soldiers, imploring them to return to the front lines and even had Prigozhin’s friend, General Surovikin, ask him to cease his operations.
Despite the Ministry’s orders, Prigozhin claimed they crossed the border and initial block posts without obstacles, with Russian soldiers reportedly thrilled that someone was finally taking a stand.
Following a series of confrontations between regular Russian detachments and Wagner forces, and with locals releasing footage of Wagner troops moving through the region, the Wagner forces succeeded in taking control of key military and administrative buildings.
As of now, the Wagner forces have entered the Voronezh region, with locals posting videos of audible gunfire. Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Defense is fortifying Moscow.
In the night of 23 June, Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin accused the Russian MoD of striking a Wagner camp and announced a “march for justice,” vowing to “stop” Moscow’s top military leadership. He set the information conditions for doing so in a revealing interview where he subjected the Russian military leadership to scathing criticism and suggested that Russian oligarchs started the war to rob Ukraine of its assets.
Russia’s official bodies denied any accusations of a strike on Wagner’s rear; the Russian FSB opened a criminal case against Prigozhin and Russia’s top brass called upon Wagner fighters to defy Prigozhin’s orders.
In the morning of 24 June, Prigozhin, who started his career as “Putin’s chef,” claimed control over military objects in Rostov-on-Don, a city that serves as the headquarters for Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine, stating that the Chief of General Staff ran away when he saw Wagner fighters approaching.
A conflict between Prigozhin and the Russian MoD has been months in the making, and Russian military leaders have sought to limit the role of the leader of Wagner, a private military company that has played a key role in Russia’s assault on Ukrainian cities.
Prigozhin had defied a demand by Russian Defense Ministry that Wagner Group members sign contracts directly, highlighting a deepening conflict within the Russian establishment. Instead, Prigozhin drafted his own “contract” and said he was awaiting an answer from Russia’s military leadership for it. Meanwhile, the deadline for the volunteer fighters to sign contracts with the MoD, 1 July, “is likely to be a key way-point in the feud,” the British intelligence assessed.
Vladimir Putin has vowed to stop the “armed rebellion” of Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Wagner’s columns are reportedly moving on Moscow after bypassing Voronezh.
The UK Intelligence has called Prigozhin’s uprising the greatest recent challenge to the Russian state.
Prigozhin has refused to lay down arms and said that Wagner mercenaries were the true “patriots” of Russia.
The Russian media outlet Vazhnye Istorii wrote, referring to its sources in the Presidential Administration, that the Kremlin tried to negotiate with Prigozhin but got rejected.
The Russian human rights project Gulagu.net claims that the Wagner coup was planned since autumn 2022 and that its objective is to seize nuclear objects in Russia. The Ukrainian-Crimean Tatar partisan movement Atesh corroborated the nuclear fears, referring to its agent that claimed Wagner is advancing on “375 Object ‘C’” near Borisoglebsk, Voronezh Oblast.
Two pro-Ukrainian units formed of Russian citizens, the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) and the Russia Freedom Legion (LSR), supported the Wagner Group’s coup against the Russian authorities, and called on their supporters to take action.
In our daily frontline report, we pair up with the military blogger Reporting from Ukraine to keep you informed about what’s happening on the battlefield in the Russo-Ukrainian war.