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Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 488: Kremlin’s deal with Wagner remains unclear

Article by: Hans Petter Midttun

Kremlin’s deal with Wagner remains unclear. Russians drop chemical munitions on Ukraine’s Armed Forces, but the wind blows toward Russian occupiers. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate warned on June 23 that Russia has finished preparations for an attack on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

Daily overview — Summary report, June 26

Source: War Mapper.

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, June 26, 2023 is in the dropdown menu below:

Situation in Ukraine. June 26, 2023. Source: ISW.

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Last night, Russian terrorists launched yet another missile and air strike on Ukraine. Information on the aftermath of this terrorist attack is currently being updated.

On June 25, the adversary launched a missile attack on the territory of Ukraine, using 6 S-300 anti-aircraft guided missiles against civilian targets in Zaporizhzhia oblast. In addition, the invaders launched 33 airstrikes as well as more than 45 MLRS attacks. The Russian terrorist attacks caused civilian casualties, damage to residential buildings, business and administrative buildings, and private vehicles.

The likelihood of missile and air strikes across Ukraine remains very high.

The adversary focuses its main efforts on Lyman, Bakhmut, and Mariinka axes, with 36 combat engagements taking place on June 25.

  • Volyn and Polissya axes: no significant changes. [No signs of the formation of an offensive group.]
Luhansk Battle Map. June 26, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Sivershchyna and Slobozhanshchyna axes: the adversary launched an airstrike in the vicinity of Zelene (Kharkiv oblast). The invaders fired mortars and artillery at the settlements of Hrem’yachka, Tymonovychi (Chernihiv oblast), Khodyne, Malushyne, Kozache, Vorozhba, Iskryskivshchyna, Pavlivka, Katerynivka (Sumy oblast), Udy, Veterynarne, Hraniv, Kozacha Lopan’, Krasne, Starytsya, Ohirtseve, Hatyshche, Vovchans’k, Bochkove, Okhrimivka, Mykolaivka, Nesterne, Budarky, Kruhle, Zemlyanky, Vil’khuvatka, Chuhunivka, Hryhorivka, Odradne (Kharkiv oblast).
  • Kupiansk axis: the adversary conducted offensive operations in the area west of Kryvoshyivka (Luhansk oblast), to no success. Russian forces launched airstrikes in the vicinities of Kyslivka and Kotlyarivka (Kharkiv oblast). Kolodyazne, Krasne Pershe, Fyholivka, Novomlyns’k, Dvorichna, Zapadne, Masyutivka, Kyslivka, and Berestove (Kharkiv oblast) came under artillery and mortar fire.
Donetsk Battle Map. June 26, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Lyman axis: the adversary conducted unsuccessful offensives towards Vesele and Rozdolivka (Donetsk oblast). The invaders launched airstrikes in the vicinities of Tors’ke, Dibrova, Bilohorivka, Zvanivka, and Spirne. Nevske, Bilohorivka (Luhansk oblast), Tors’ke, Serebryanka, Verkhn’yokam’yans’ke, Spirne, and Rozdolivka (Donetsk oblast) were shelled with artillery.
Bakhmut Battle Map. June 26, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Bakhmut axis: the adversary attempted offensive operations in the vicinities of Min’kivka, Hryhorivka, and Bohdanivka (Donetsk oblast), to no success. The Russian forces launched airstrikes near Khromove and Sukha Balka. Vasyukivka, Min’kivka, Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Bohdanivka, Chasiv Yar, Ivanivske, Ozarianivka, and New York (Donetsk oblast) suffered from enemy artillery shelling.
  • Avdiivka axis: the adversary launched an airstrike in the vicinity of Avdiivka. The occupant forces fired artillery at the settlements of Berdychi, Avdiivka, Vodyane, Karlivka, and Pervomais’ke (Donetsk oblast).
  • Marinka axis: the enemy conducted offensive operations in the vicinity of Marinka (Donetsk oblast), to no success. The invaders launched an airstrike near Krasnohorivka. At the same time, the settlements of Hostre, Heorhiivka, and Marinka (Donetsk oblast) were shelled with artillery.
  • Shakhtarske axis: the enemy conducted unsuccessful offensives towards Novomykhailivka. The Russian forces launched airstrikes near Prechystivka and Blahodatne. The invaders shelled the settlements of Paraskoviivka, Novomykhailivka, Vuhledar, Storozheve, Makarivka, Novosilka, and Novopil’ (Donetsk oblast).
Zaporizhzhia Battle Map. June 26, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Zaporizhzhia and Kherson axes: the adversary focuses its main efforts on preventing the advance of Ukrainian troops. The enemy unsuccessfully attempted to regain its position lost in the vicinity of Novodarivka (Zaporizhzhia oblast). The occupant forces launched airstrikes in the vicinities of Levadne and Novodanylivka (Zaporizhzhia oblast). The invaders fired artillery at about 30 settlements, including Temyrivka, Novodarivka, Levadne, Ol’hivs’ke, Malynivka, Zelenyi Hai, Zatyshshya, Hulyaipole (Zaporizhzhia oblast), Nikopol’ (Dnipropetrovsk oblast), Mylove, Beryslav, Kozats’ke, L’vove, Mykil’s’ke, Antonivka, Zelenivka, Kherson, Dniprovs’ke (Kherson oblast), and Ochakiv (Mykolaiv oblast).
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. June 26, 2023. Source: ISW.

On June 25, the Ukrainian Air Force launched 8 air strikes on the concentrations of enemy troops. Also, the Ukrainian defenders intercepted 6x operational-tactical level UAVs of the enemy.

On June 25, the Ukrainian missile and artillery troops hit 2 command posts, 3 concentrations of troops and military equipment, 4 ammunition depots, 1 electronic warfare station, 10 artillery units at their firing positions, and 3 other important targets of the adversary.

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Military Updates

Shelling by Russian Troops. Icelandic Data Analyst.

Russians drop chemical munitions on Ukraine’s Armed Forces, but the wind blows toward Russian occupiers, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Valerii Shershen, the spokesperson for the Joint Press Centre for the Tavriia front Defence Forces, has said that the Russian invaders dropped chemical ammunition on one of the positions of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, but the wind was blowing toward the Russians.

We recorded the fact of dropping a prohibited chemical munition with an aerosol-suffocating effect on one of the positions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The wind was [blowing] toward the enemy. Shershen did not provide any additional information. He also did not confirm whether there were any victims among Ukraine’s Armed Forces.”

The enemy loses about three companies in Tavria direction in the past day, Ukrinform reports, citing Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, the Commander of the Tavria Operational and Strategic Group of Troops. “The missile and artillery units of the Defense Forces have completed 1,093 fire missions in the past 24 hours. The enemy’s losses in killed and injured reached about three companies, Tarnavskyi wrote.

Sixteen military equipment units of the aggressor state were destroyed, namely one tank, two armoured fighting vehicles, two Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), one Zala UAV, one 2A65 Msta-B howitzer, one BM-27 Uragan multiple launch rocket system (MLRS). Additionally, the Ukrainian military smashed five enemy ammunition depots.”

Ukrainian military advance up to 1 km on flanks around Bakhmut, Ukrinform reports, citing the spokesperson for the Eastern Grouping of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Serhii Cherevatyi. “In the Bakhmut direction, the Defense Forces are holding the initiative and continue assault actions, pushing the enemy back. Over the past day, they have advanced from 600 to 1,000 meters on the southern and northern flanks around Bakhmut, Cherevatyi told.

In his words, during that period, a total of 186 Russian occupiers were eliminated, 224 injured, and eight were taken prisoner. Additionally, the Ukrainian military destroyed one enemy tank, one infantry fighting vehicle, two self-propelled artillery systems, two Grad multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), three anti-tank systems, three Msta-B guns, one Strela-10 surface-to-air missile system, six field ammunition depots, three Lancet loitering munitions, and one Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).”

Russians pulling motley crew of troops into Ukraine’s eastern operational zone – army spox, Ukrinform reports, citing the spokesman for Operational Command East, Serhiy Cherevatyi. “They are pulling all kinds of units into our operational area – these are airborne units, infantry, the Bars combat reserve, territorial forces, and a number of other smaller PMCs such as Patriot, Fakel, and Veterans. The latest were the Storm Z assault companies. This replica of Wagner Group was established under the Military Draft Offices. There are probably more than 170,000 of them in our operational zone,” he said.

Cherevatyi emphasized that the number is the only advantage that remains with the enemy, but the Ukrainian Defense Forces do not allow this advantage to be utilized to achieve actual major successes. Being more trained and motivated, we force the enemy to retreat, noted the spokesman for Group East.

According to him, units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, National Guard, and Special Operations Center A of the SBU are decimating enemy equipment with maximum accuracy. Cherevatyi emphasized that almost every enemy target is hit in up to two shots. The enemy doesn’t have that precision because unfortunately they still have quite a large volume of these shells.”

Ukraine’s deputy defense chief reports almost 5,000 Russian KIAs over past week, Ukrinform reports, citing first Deputy Minister of Defense, Lieutenant General Oleksandr Pavliuk. “From June 19 to June 25, Ukraine’s Defence Forces eliminated nearly 4,810 enemy personnel, he wrote.

According to Pavliuk, the Russian forces also suffered significant losses in terms of military equipment. Over the week, the Russians lost 46 tanks, 77 armoured fighting vehicles, 187 artillery systems, 14 MLR systems, 21 air defence systems, 164 trucks, and 30 specialized vehicles. In addition, Ukrainian defenders shot down four helicopters, 48 missiles, and 101 unmanned aerial vehicles.”

According to British Defence Intelligence, (last 48 hours): 

British Intelligence Map.

  • As part of its broader counter-offensive, Ukraine has gained impetus in its assaults around Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast.
  • In a multi-brigade operation, Ukrainian forces have made progress on both the northern and southern flanks of the town.
  • There has been little evidence that Russia maintains any significant ground forces operational level reserves which could be used to reinforce against the multiple threats it is now facing in widely separated sectors,
  • In recent days, Ukrainian forces have re-set and have again been undertaking major offensive operations on three main axes in southern and eastern Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian forces are using the experiences from the first two weeks of the counter-offensive to refine tactics for assaulting the deep, well prepared Russian defences. Ukrainian units are making gradual but steady tactical progress in key areas.
  • In Luhansk Oblast, Russian forces have made their own significant effort to launch an attack in the Serebryanka Forest near Kremina. This probably reflects continued Russian senior leadership orders to go on the offensive whenever possible. Russia has made some small gains, but Ukrainian forces have prevented a breakthrough.

Losses of the Russian army

Losses of the Russian Army. Source: Euromaidan Press.

As of Sunday 25 June, the approximate losses of weapons and military equipment of the Russian Armed Forces from the beginning of the invasion to the present day:

  • Personnel – about 225580 (+950)
  • Tanks – 4031 (+1)
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 7820 (+14)
  • Artillery systems – 4055 (+21)
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 624 (+0)
  • Air defence means – 385 (+0)
  • Aircraft – 314 (+0)
  • Helicopters – 308 (+0)
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 6751(+16)
  • Vessels/boats – 18 (+0)
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 3482 (+10)
  • Special equipment – 557 (+5)
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0)
  • Cruise missiles – 1259 (+0)

Russia loses “7 helicopters” during rebellion, good that it was not more – Serbian president, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Pink TV. “Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, commenting on the attempted rebellion in Russia by the Wagner private military company, has praised Vladimir Putin and was glad that military losses turned out to be insignificant. […] He also noted that as a result of Saturday’s events, Russia lost “a total of seven” helicopters. These are expensive helicopters worth at least 40 million euros… It’s good that the losses are not much, much bigger, Serbian president believes. […]

Vučić is likely to have miscalculated Russia’s losses in the attempted rebellion: according to Yurii Ihnat, Spokesperson of the Air Forces of Ukraine, Russian forces have lost one aircraft, two attack helicopters and four Mi-8 transport helicopters.”

Russian MP says “no reason” to ban Wagner Group in Russia, Ukrinform reports, citing Meduza. “Andriy Kartapolov, head of the State Duma Committee on Defence, believes that there is no reason to blacklist Wagner Group, which participated in the mutiny effort launched by their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin. […] Kartapolov noted that the fate of Wagner Group as such has not yet been determined. At the same time, he believes it is not necessary to ban the organization.

Why should it be banned? After all, here all the questions are to be addressed to this group’s leader… The one who started the mutiny must answer. Traditionally, we just cut everything at the root, said the Russian deputy, adding that the Wagner is the most combat-capable unit in Russia, and dispersing it would be the best gift for NATO and Ukraine.”

It is possible that Putin will kill Prigozhin in Belarus CNN, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing former CNN Moscow bureau chief Jean Dougherty. “Putin doesn’t forgive traitors. Even if Putin says, ‘Prigozhin, you go to Belarus,’ he is still a traitor and I think Putin will never forgive that… If I were Putin, I would be worried about those people on the streets of Rostov cheering the Wagner people as they leave. Why are average Russians on the street cheering people who just tried to carry out a coup? Dougherty said. That means that maybe they support them or they like them. Whatever it is, it’s really bad news for Putin. 

She added that it was entirely possible that Prigozhin would be killed in Belarus, but it was a difficult dilemma for Moscow because as long as Prigozhin has some type of support, he is a threat, regardless of where he is.

On Saturday evening, the press service of the self-proclaimed president of Belarus announced that Aleksandr Lukashenko held talks with Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Private Military Company, and he accepted the proposal to stop the movement of the Wagnerites on the territory of Russia. After that, Prigozhin declared that his mercenaries were turning their convoys around and going in the opposite direction to the field camps. Later, the Kremlin announced that the criminal case against Prigozhin would be closed and he would “o to Belarus.”

Prigozhin’s Press Secretary claims he is “out of touch“, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Meduza and RTVI. “The press service of Yevgeny Prigozhin, financier of the Wagner Private Military Company,  has said that he has not been in touch yet. The media note that his current location is unknown. The media noted that Prigozhin was last seen when he left Rostov in the evening of 24 June, and his current location is unknown.

Meanwhile, the press service said that their recruitment headquarters in Astrakhan and Voronezh continue to work, adding that they were allowed. Ukrainian special services doubt that the Wagner Group mercenaries went to Belarus.”

Humanitarian 

In May, ICRC confirms captivity of hundreds of missing Ukrainians – report, Ukrinform reports, citing Oleksandr Vlasenko, the spokesman for ICRC in Ukraine, who spoke in an interview with Tyzhden. “Last month, the International Committee of the Red Cross managed to confirm that hundreds of missing Ukrainians are in fact held in Russian captivity. […] The spokesman noted that this information came from the Russian National Information Bureau.

Vlasenko explained that only after the status of a prisoner of war is confirmed can the ICRC demand access to a person, although the organization has no coercive tools to apply. He explained that a person shall be considered missing until the ICRC receives confirmation from the National Information Bureau of the Russian Federation that they are held in captivity.

Even if the person who opens the case with us saw the missing person in some Telegram channel yesterday, this is not a confirmation for us. We cannot verify that the video wasn’t doctored, and we have to get data from an official body that the person is really in that location. In this case, we can inform the relatives that we have found the person, added Vlasenko. […]

As Ukrinform reported earlier, public organizations say over 10,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war are held in Russian prisons.”

UN helps develop master plan to rebuild Kharkiv, Ukrinform reports, citing the UN press service. “A UN-supported team of international and local architects has developed a concept for reconstruction of Kharkiv city. It is noted that a team of Ukrainian and foreign architects adopted a concept for a new urban landscape that was submitted by local volunteer, historian, architect, and documentary filmmaker Maxim Rosenfeld. The master plan has been developed on a voluntary basis by the Norman Foster Foundation together with a group of local architects and urban planners as well as with the Advisory Council of International Experts.

Supported by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) through a pilot project, the newly created UN4Kharkiv task force has united 16 UN agencies and international organizations.

According to the Kharkiv City Council, 3,367 apartment buildings and 1,823 single-family houses have been destroyed in Kharkiv, along with urban infrastructure. The total damage caused to Ukraine’s housing sector since Russia’s invasion is estimated at more than $50 billion, according to the UN.”

Environmental

Plan to blow up Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant approved, situation has never been so severe before, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Budanov, in an interview with The New Statesman, as cited by Defence Intelligence website. “Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Defence Intelligence, is convinced that the plan to blow up the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) by Russians has been fully developed and approved, and the threat has never been as great as it is now. […] According to Budanov, Russia has completed preparations for the terrorist attack on the ZNPP. […]

Budanov believes that technical assets can be used to accelerate the disaster. According to the head of Defence Intelligence, the cooling reservoir of the station was mined by Russian troops. Without cooling, nuclear reactors can melt within a period from ten hours to 14 days. He believes Russia will be able to increase the voltage in the power lines at the plant, leading to a nuclear accident at the bottom of this time interval.

Ukrainian intelligence has determined that Russian troops have moved vehicles packed with explosives to four of the six power units. It is not known whether access to these units was granted to the International Atomic Energy Agency during its visit on June 15, the newspaper writes.

According to the head of the Defence Intelligence, Russia’s order to commit a terrorist attack on the ZNPP may have been caused by the defeat of the Russian occupation forces on the Left Bank of Dnipro ― Russia considers creation of a nuclear disaster zone a safeguard for the further advance of the defence forces of Ukraine. At the same time, according to Budanov, there is a risk that the Russian Federation may cause a radiation leak at the ZNPP as a preventive measure to stop Ukraine’s offensive operation and freeze the front line in its current form.

There is frustration in Ukrainian intelligence and government circles that the international community’s response to the destruction of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant dam on 6 June was so muted that this could provoke further use of “scorched Earth tactic,” the newspaper notes. On 20 June, Budanov said that the threat of an explosion or accident at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant existed because Russians additionally mined the cooler.”

Russians tear up Ukrainian documents at checkpoints in occupied part of Zaporizhzhia region, Ukrinform reports, citing Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov. “The occupiers are putting more and more pressure on people to impose Russian citizenship: without a Russian passport, it is no longer possible to receive social benefits and medical care. The ferocious occupiers are tearing up Ukrainian documents at checkpoints. People who refuse [Russian] passports are threatened with deportation and confiscation of all their property, he wrote.

Fedorov added that passports issued in February 2023 are being handed out to people. That is, the occupiers produced passports in advance so that then forcibly issue them to absolutely everyone by any methods, the mayor said.”

Support

Australia pledges $100m in new military support for Ukraine, including vehicles and ammunition, The Guardian reports. “The Australian government has announced a new $110m assistance package as the next round of support for Ukraine, including military vehicles, ammunition and humanitarian funding.

This package responds to Ukraine’s requests for vehicles and ammunition, and will make a tangible difference on the battlefield, the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said. The government has committed 70 military vehicles, including 28 M113 armoured vehicles, 14 special operations vehicles, 28 MAN 40M medium trucks and 14 trailers; a new supply of 105mm artillery ammunition; and $10m to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – for the Ukraine Humanitarian Fund – to assist in the provision of shelter, health services, water and sanitation.”

Ukraine will receive 45 Gepard anti-aircraft guns and 2 IRIS-T systems by the end of the year, Militarnyi reports. “Germany, in cooperation with the United States, intends to transfer 45 more Gepard anti-aircraft guns and 2 IRIS-T air defense systems to Ukraine by the end of the year. Brigadier General Christian Freuding shared this in an interview with Welt am Sonntag.

According to the publication, Germany has already handed over 34 Gepard anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine, and 15 more will be delivered in the coming weeks. In addition, we want to deliver up to 30 more Gepards by the end of the year in cooperation with the US, Freuding said.

Assistance in purchasing Gepard anti-aircraft guns is also provided by the United States. Militarnyi reported that the Pentagon signed a contract with Global Military Products. The $118 million contract covers the purchase of anti-aircraft guns in Jordan.

In an interview, Freuding stated that he considers Ukraine’s air defenses to be a key weak point during counteroffensive actions. We are doing everything we can. But, despite all this, does Ukraine have sufficient anti-missile defense? Definitely not!, the Brigadier General declared. He also reminded that Germany will hand over two IRIS-T SLM air defense systems to Ukraine by the end of this year, and four more in the next year.

Thus, the approximate number of Gepard anti-aircraft guns in service with the Defense Forces of Ukraine will be about 79 units by the end of this year. The number of IRIS-T SLM air defense systems will be increased to eight by the end of next year.”

Readout of Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III’s Call With Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov, the US Department of Defense reports. “Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke today with Ukrainian Minister of Defence Oleksii Reznikov to discuss regional security developments and dynamics on the ground in Ukraine. Secretary Austin reiterated unwavering US support for Ukraine and discussed security assistance priorities to meet Ukraine’s needs on the battlefield.”

Pentagon admits it overvalued Ukraine military aid by $6.2 billion, The Hill reported 21 June. An accounting error led the Pentagon to overvalue the military aid the United States has sent Ukraine by $6.2 billion over the past two years, double the amount first estimated. The Defense Department (DOD) earlier this year “discovered inconsistencies in equipment valuation for Ukraine,” specifically that the military services used replacement costs rather than the net book value of equipment that was taken from Pentagon stocks to send to Ukraine, deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters Tuesday.  

Singh said calculations revealed there was an overestimation of $3.6 billion in the current fiscal year and $2.6 billion in fiscal 2022, which ended Sept. 30. That means the Pentagon has an unexpected influx of money banked to use to bolster Ukraine in its newly launched counteroffensive against Russia. […]

The Biden administration has repeatedly used presidential drawdown authority to pull US missiles, vehicles, ammunition and other equipment from Pentagon stockpiles to quickly move to Ukraine. The method gets the security assistance to Kyiv much faster than the sometimes lengthy process of buying weapons directly from defense firms, which must build out orders before shipping them to the embattled country.  

Washington earlier this month said it had committed more than $40 billion in lethal aid to Ukraine using presidential drawdown authority since Russia attacked the country in February 2022. But under the new calculation, that number is now less than $34 billion. The admission means the administration has some extra room in replenishing US military equipment sent to Kyiv.”

New Developments

  1. Prigozhin possibly promised dismissal of Russia’s Defence Minister and General Staff Chief, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing sources in the Ukrainian special services. “Sources note that in exchange for turning the convoys of Wagner Group’s forces away from Moscow, Prigozhin could have been promised the dismissal of Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov and other minor Russian officials with whom the owner of the Wagner PMC is in conflict. The sources also cast doubt on whether the Wagnerites will actually move to Belarus.”
  2. US’s Blinken says Russia turmoil shows ‘cracks’ in Putin’s power, ReutersThe unprecedented challengeto Russian President Vladimir Putin by Wagner fighters has exposed fresh “cracks” in the strength of his leadership that may take weeks or months to play out, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday. […] The turmoil in Russia has weakened Putin in ways that could aid Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian forces within its territory while benefiting Russia’s neighbors, including Poland and the Baltic states. I don’t think we’ve seen the final act, Blinken said on ABC’s “This Week” program after an aborted mutiny by forces led by Yevgeny Prigozhin. Blinken said tensions that sparked the action had been growing for months and added that the threat of internal turmoil could affect Moscow’s military capabilities in Ukraine.”
  3. US intelligence knew that Prigozhin was planning coup in Russia, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing CNN. “US intelligence believes that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC), had been planning to challenge the Russian military leadership for quite some time. According to those briefed, the ultimate aim of Prigozhin’s plans was unclear. Earlier this week, US intelligence officials briefed congressional leaders known as the Gang of Eight on Wagner’s movements and equipment build-up near Russia, two of the sources said. US and Western intelligence officials saw signs that Prigozhin was preparing for such a move, including by amassing weapons and ammunition. In addition, according to one CNN source, they believe that Prigozhin’s claims of a lack of ammunition for operations in Ukraine were deliberate deception to help lay the foundation for a potential military challenge to the Russian leadership.”
  4. Russia mercenary threat revives concern over nuclear arsenal security, ReutersThe Wagner mercenary group’s march on Moscow has revived an old fear in Washington: what happens to Russia’s nuclear stockpile in the event of domestic upheaval. […] Images of tanks on Russian streets brought to mind the failed 1991 coup by communist hardliners that raised concerns about the security of the Soviet nuclear arsenal and the possibility of a rogue commander stealing a warhead, said former US intelligence officials. […] The scenario worrying planners now may be the possibility of a rogue military faction gaining decision-making ability over some of the weapons should divisions over the war in Ukraine exposed by Prigozhin’s mutiny erupt anew. The United States and its allies would be left to wonder how any new authority would use the weapons, said Hoffman. It’s the ability to extort the West for whatever you want. And they might not play by the same sort of rules that Putin has, he said, noting how the Russian leader has not acted on nuclear threats he has made in response to the West’s support for Ukraine’s fight against Russian occupation forces.”
  5. China expresses support for Russia after aborted mutiny, ReutersChina supports Russia in maintaining its national stability, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Sunday, a day after an aborted mutinyby the Wagner group of heavily armed mercenaries. […] China’s foreign ministry initially said only that Rudenko had exchanged views with China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Sino-Russian relations as well as international and regional issues of common concern. It later said China supports Russia in maintaining its national stability and that the recent escalation in tensions in Russia was Russia’s internal affairs“.
  6. Yermak outlines results of advisers’ meeting in Copenhagen, Ukrinform reports, citing Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian President’s Office. “He wrote that consultations on the key principles of peace were held in Copenhagen with national security advisers and political advisers from Brazil, the United Kingdom, Denmark, the EU, Italy, India, Canada, Germany, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, the USA, Türkiye, Ukraine, France, and Japan. The meeting is a continuation of the dialogue launched at the G7 summit in Hiroshima between the leaders of Ukraine, the G7 countries and the Global South. […] During the consultations, I noted that the meeting of advisers in Copenhagen is a clear signal of respect for Ukraine and our just struggle, support for the territorial integrity of our state and sovereignty, which are the fundamental principles of the UN, which we all share.”
  7. Poland doesn’t rule out tension rise on border with Belarus, Ukrinform reports, citing Radio Poland and the spokesman for the minister coordinator for special services, Stanislaw Zaryn. “We cannot rule out that Prigozhin will be used in Belarus to strengthen at least this hybrid operation that hits Poland directly. This, of course, is an issue that needs to be monitored, which the Polish services will certainly do, said Zaryn. […] In his opinion, the June 24 events in Russia were not an introduction to power change. Zaryn added that this is about the rivalry of the factions that reign over Russia. We are dealing with certain frictions between various groups involved in military operations against Ukraine. But it must be clearly said: until today in Russia, neither among the power elites, nor in the army, nor in society are there any strong resistance movements regarding the main strategic goals and actions, said the Polish government spokesman. He also expressed the opinion that the latest developments in Russian could in fact turn out to be a disinformation campaign intended to conceal real intentions targeting the West.”
  8. Erdogan tells NATO Sweden must stop Kurdish protests, ReutersSweden must stop protests by supporters of outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Stockholm to get a green light on its NATO membership bid, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told NATO’s Secretary-General in a phone call on Sunday.”
  9. Fire at Bulgarian arms factory of businessman poisoned by GRU agents, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Balkan Radio LibertyOn the night of 24-25 June, a large-scale fire broke out in the storage point of the EMKO arms company near the Bulgarian town of Karnobat. This facility is owned by businessman Emilian Gebrev, and the owner suspects that it was an intentional arson attack. According to Gebrev, the current fire broke out at around 00:40 on Sunday, and fortunately, none of the base’s security guards were injured. […] The fire was the second fire in a row at this facility after ammunition detonated in another storage point on 31 July 2022. Since then, an investigation has been ongoing, and the prosecutor’s office has not released any official information about its progress.”

Assessment 

https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-june-26-2023*

  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  June 25, 2022:

The Ukrainian General Staff reported that a Russian sabotage and reconnaissance group unsuccessfully tried to cross the international border into Sumy Oblast near Rodionivka on June 25.

Russian forces continued limited ground attacks northwest of Svatove amid claims of continued Ukrainian offensives along the Kreminna-Svatove line on June 25. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive actions near Berestove, Kharkiv Oblast (20km northwest of Svatove). […]

Russian sources speculated that Ukrainian forces struck Luhansk City with Storm Shadow cruise missiles on June 25. Geolocated footage published on June 25 shows a column of smoke in the vicinity of Luhansk City. Former Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) official Rodion Miroshnik claimed that Russian air defenses operated in the area. ISW has not observed visual confirmation that Ukrainian forces struck Luhansk City on June 25.

Russian and Ukrainian forces continued ground attacks around Bakhmut on June 25. The Ukrainian General Staff reported a relatively higher number of Russian offensive operations near Bakhmut than over the past few days and stated that Russian forces unsuccessfully attacked northeast of Bakhmut near Rozdolikvka (14km northeast) and Vesele (16km northeast); northwest of Bakhmut near Hryhorivka (10km northwest) and Minkivka (12km northwest); and southwest of Bakhmut near Ivanivkske (3km southwest). Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces took advantage of distraction caused by Wagner Group’s armed June 23-24 rebellion and launched several counterattacks in the Bakhmut area, including southwest of Bakhmut near Kurdiumivka (12km southwest) and Klishchiivka (6km southwest); northwest of Bakhmut near Yahidne (3km northwest); and northeast of Bakhmut on the Vasyukivka-Rozdolivka line. […] Ukraine’s 3rd Separate Assault Brigade reported that it defeated elements of the 57th Motorized Rifle Brigade (5th Combined Arms Army, Eastern Military District) in the Bakhmut area and destroyed a Russian bridgehead in an unspecified area on the western bank of the Siverskyi Donets-Donbas canal, which runs southwest of Bakhmut between Mayorsk and Kurdiumivka.

Russian forces continued ground attacks along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line on June 25. Ukrainian military sources reported that Russian forces attacked Ukrainian positions in the Avdiivka and Marinka directions and that 13 combat clashes took place near Marinka over the past day. Geolocated footage posted on June 24 and June 25 shows that Ukrainian forces have made marginal advances on the northern outskirts of Donetsk City just south of Avdiivka and between Pisky and Pervomaiske on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City. Ukrainian 79th Air Assault Brigade spokesperson Colonel Yaroslav Chepurnyi notably reported on June 24 that Chechen “Akhmat-Vostok” elements and unspecified Russian special forces suddenly withdrew from Marinka. The details of this reported withdrawal are unclear, but some contingent of Akhmat and other special forces may have departed from Marinka to Rostov Oblast in order to guard against the Wagner Group’s June 23-24 armed rebellion.

A Russian source claimed that Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks in the Vuhledar area on June 25. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful attacks near the outskirts of Vuhledar (30km due east of Velyka Novosilka).

Russian and Ukrainian forces conducted limited ground attacks along the administrative border between western Donetsk and eastern Zaporizhzhia oblasts on June 25. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces unsuccessfully attempted to seize lost positions near Novodarivka (15km southwest of Velyka Novosilka). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces unsuccessfully attacked near Makarivka (7km south of Velyka Novosilka) and Zolota Nyva (13km southeast of Velyka Novosilka) and that Ukrainian forces advanced near Rivnopil (10km southwest of Velyka Novosilka) and Priyutne (17km southwest of Velyka Novosilka).

Russian and Ukrainian forces conducted limited ground attacks in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast on June 25. Russian sources claimed that Russian forces repelled a Ukrainian attack near Robotyne (12km south of Orikhiv) and Novopokrovka (15km southeast of Orikhiv). Russian sources claimed that neither side controls Pyatykhatky (25km southwest of Orikhiv), although ISW has not observed footage suggesting that Ukrainian forces have lost control of the settlement since they captured it on June 19. A Russian milblogger claimed that elements of the 291st Motorized Rifle Regiment (42nd Motorized Rifle Division, 58th Combined Arms Army, Southern Military District) are operating near Robotyne.

Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces maintain positions near the Antonivskyi Bridge in Kherson Oblast. A Russian milblogger claimed on June 24 that fighting occurred between Russian airborne forces (VDV) and Ukrainian forces near the Antonivskyi Bridge (8km northeast of Kherson City). Another Russian milblogger claimed on June 25 that Ukrainian forces had established positions on the east (left) bank of Antonivskyi Bridge. ISW has not observed visual confirmation of these claims, and it is unclear if floodwaters have receded enough for Ukrainian or Russian forces to establish positions near this area.

Russian sources speculated on the specifics of the deal mediated by Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko to end the Wagner Group’s June 23-24 armed rebellion, including the possible involvement of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff. Russian opposition outlet Meduza, citing unnamed internal Kremlin sources, reported that Prigozhin initially tried to get in touch with the Russian Presidential Administration midday June 24 as Wagner fighters moved north from Rostov-on-Don towards Moscow, but that Putin refused to speak with Prigozhin. Meduza noted that, once Prigozhin observed the lack of widespread military support for Wagner’s actions and changed his mind on Wagner’s prospects, the Kremlin turned to negotiations involving Lukashenko, Chief of Staff of the Russian Presidential Office Anton Vaino, and Russian Ambassador to Belarus Boris Gryzlov. Vaino and Gryzlov’s possible involvement was not reported on June 24. A prominent Kremlin-affiliated milblogger also questioned whether the deal will hold Wagner or Prigozhin accountable in any way for the deaths of at least 13 Russian airman on June 24. Prigozhin’s whereabouts cannot be verified beyond his departure from Rostov-on-Don late on June 24. Russian outlet RTVI claimed that Prigozhin’s press service told RTVI that Prigozhin “sends his regards” and will answer all questions “when he is on normal communication,” and a prominent Wagner-affiliated Telegram channel shared an AI-generated image of Prigozhin holding a finger to his lips and stating “plans love silence,” a copy of the phrase commonly used in Ukraine about operational security. As ISW noted on June 24, the specifics of the deal are still unclear in the open source beyond speculation and rumor. The fallout of Wagner’s armed rebellion has not yet concluded, and it remains to be seen how the deal will be implemented, if all involved parties will comply fully, how the Kremlin and Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) intend to do with Wagner personnel – and if Wagner fighters will cooperate, regardless of Prigozhin’s wishes.

The implications of the Lukashenko-Prigozhin deal for the leadership of the Russian MoD also remain ambiguous. Some Russian sources, including internal Kremlin sources cited by Meduza, suggested that the Kremlin may be considering changes to MoD leadership as part of the deal. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov have not been seen or heard from since before Prigozhin announced the beginning of the armed rebellion on June 23. Some Russian sources suggested that Alexei Dyumin, the current governor of Tula Oblast, former security officer to Putin, and former head of Russia’s Special Operations Forces, may replace Shoigu as the Defense Minister, although ISW cannot confirm these speculations. Any changes to the MoD leadership would notably represent a significant victory for Prigozhin, who justified his armed rebellion by directly accusing Shoigu and Gerasimov of the deaths of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

Wagner forces continued to withdraw from positions in Rostov and on the road to Moscow to their bases on June 25, and the Kremlin’s intended structure for leveraging Wagner fighters remains unclear. Geolocated footage published on June 25 shows armed Wagner forces driving south away from Moscow near Voronezh City. Footage published on June 25 purportedly shows Wagner forces returning to training camps in southern Russia. The fact that Wagner is returning to their training camps with military equipment indicates that the Kremlin intends to maintain at least certain elements of Wagner’s manpower rather than seek to immediately demobilize them, although the future of Wagner’s command and organizational structure are unclear. Russian State Duma Defense Committee Head Andrei Kartapolov announced on June 25 that the State Duma is working on a law that would regulate private military companies (PMCs) but emphasized that it is not necessary to ban the Wagner Group as it is “the most combat-ready unit in Russia.” Kartapolov further noted that the future of the Wagner Group is undetermined and emphasized that the personnel of the Wagner Group in Rostov-on-Don were “following orders of their command” and “did nothing reprehensible.” Kartapolov’s efforts to absolve Wagner personnel of responsibility for taking part in an armed rebellion and separate them from Prigozhin may indicate the Russian government’s desire to continue to use Wagner personnel in some capacity, and as ISW assessed on June 24, the Russian leadership could redeploy Wagner to Ukraine or instead commit them to international missions. Russian state-affiliated news outlets reported on June 24 that the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Rozkomnadzor) blocked Prigozhin’s official press service on Russian social media site VKontakte, indicating the Kremlin’s efforts to restrict Prigozhin’s organizational actions.

Further details emerged on the composition of the Wagner units approaching Moscow on June 24, indicating Prigozhin would likely have struggled in an active conflict in Moscow without additional support. Russian sources claimed on June 25 that the first Wagner column that began moving towards Moscow on June 24 consisted of 350 pieces of equipment, including nine tanks, four Tigr infantry fighting vehicles, a Grad MLRS system, and a howitzer. Russian sources claimed that the three other Wagner columns that moved towards Moscow had 375, 100, and 212 pieces of equipment respectively, the majority of which were non-armored trucks, cars, and buses. Russian milbloggers claimed on June 24 that the columns moving towards Moscow were comprised of 4,000 personnel with 40 to 50 pieces of equipment, including MRAPs, T-90M main battle tanks, BMP infantry fighting vehicles, Pantsir air defense systems, and Grad MLRS systems. CNN reported on June 24 that US and Western intelligence officials observed Wagner amassing equipment and ammunition for the rebellion for several weeks, indicating that the columns likely comprised Wagner‘s greatest available strength. ISW cannot confirm the exact composition of the Wagner columns at this time, although current reporting suggests that Prigozhin’s force would have struggled to fully occupy Moscow or conduct prolonged engagements with elements of the Russian Armed Forces, if they deployed. ISW previously assessed that Prigozhin likely sought and failed to win military support for his rebellion, and Wagner’s move on Moscow was likely predicated on the assumption that military support would strengthen the rebellion’s forces and capabilities. Prigozhin may have become more amenable to the alleged negotiations with Lukashenko as these insufficient forces drew nearer to Moscow and that time was running out to garner the necessary military support for a potential armed conflict with the MoD.

The Russian ultranationalist information space fractured on June 25 between those who want to move past the rebellion and those demanding solutions to the internal security flaws that the rebellion had exposed. A Wagner-affiliated milblogger praised all of the parties for bringing the rebellion to an end and avoiding bloodshed, ignoring the fact that Wagner forces killed at least 13 Russian pilots and airmen during the rebellion. Other Russian sources continued to characterize the rebellion as solely Prigozhin’s doing and called on Russian authorities to show clemency towards the Wagner fighters who have fought for Russian interests in Ukraine. A Russian milblogger specifically accused Moscow Oblast officials and the MoD of failing to stop the Wagner advance towards Moscow. The milblogger questioned how the MoD would be able to respond to external incursions if it was unable to stop Wagner’s movement towards Moscow. A former Russian occupation official criticized how the internal Russian structures were slow in publicly addressing the rebellion. Several other Russian milbloggers criticized the Russian elites for failing to publicly support Putin and for fleeing Russia. Another Russian ultranationalist bemoaned that Prigozhin’s rebellion indicated that Russia is one step closer to its final and irrevocable death. A prominent milblogger asked how Russian authorities will punish those involved in the deaths of Russian servicemen, indicating that clemency for the Wagner fighters that participated in the rebellion may become a longstanding grievance for elements of the Russian military and the ultranationalist community.

The ultranationalist Angry Patriots Club held a pre-scheduled event in Moscow on June 25 and espoused longstanding criticisms against Putin and the Russian military leadership, suggesting that the Kremlin will not immediately begin cracking down on antagonistic ultranationalist groups in the aftermath of Prigozhin’s rebellion. The Angry Patriots Club is a pro-war social movement that aims to correct perceived issues in the war-effort in Ukraine so that Russian forces can achieve victory, and the club’s members have used that mission to launch routine scathing criticisms of the MoD, the Kremlin, and Putin himself. The Angry Patriots Club has also notably called for “revolution” if the Kremlin freezes the war in Ukraine or pursues negotiations. Former Russian officer and ardent nationalist Igor Girkin spoke at the livestreamed event in Moscow and delivered a set of longstanding theses on what Russia needs to do to win the war in Ukraine. Girkin publicly reiterated that Putin needs to legally transfer certain presidential authorities to other parties if Putin is unwilling to assume control over the war in Ukraine as the supreme Commander-in-Chief. The Angry Patriots Club had promoted the event for several weeks, and Russian officials were likely aware of it to some extent. If the Kremlin intends to use Prigozhin’s rebellion as pretext to start immediately suppressing antagonistic ultranationalists, then this event would have likely been a prime candidate to start that effort. The Kremlin likely risks Prigozhin’s armed rebellion expanding the window of acceptable anti-Kremlin criticism, particularly if the Kremlin does not intend to retaliate further against Prigozhin. The Kremlin’s continued careful response to the armed rebellion will likely prompt other Russian nationalists to test Russian official reactions to more explicitly critical rhetoric.

Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front on June 25. Russian sources claimed that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian attacks around Bakhmut, along the administrative border between western Donetsk and eastern Zaporizhzhia oblasts, and in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast. A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces advanced southwest of Velyka Novosilka, although ISW is unable to confirm this claim. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov stated in an interview with Fox News published on June 25 that the main assault of the counteroffensive has not yet started.

Russian forces’ ability to conduct offensive and defensive operations in Ukraine does not appear to have been substantially impacted by Wagner’s June 23-24 armed rebellion. Russian and Ukrainian sources both reported that fighting continued as usual along the entire frontline, with Russian forces conducting a relatively higher number of ground attacks near Bakhmut than over the past few days. Some Russian sources used the armed rebellion as a rhetorical device to preemptively exculpate Russian forces from any Ukrainian gains made on June 24 and 25.

Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Head Kyrylo Budanov warned on June 23 that Russia has finished preparations for an attack on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). Budanov stated that Russian forces have mined the ZNPP’s cooling pond and have moved vehicles loaded with explosives to four of the six ZNPP power units. As ISW previously assessed, intentional Russian sabotage of the ZNPP resulting in a radiological catastrophe would potentially be more detrimental to Russian forces on the southern bank of the Kakhovka Reservoir than to Ukrainian forces on the opposite bank. Russia has frequently invoked threatening rhetoric surrounding the ZNPP in order to dissuade potential Ukrainian counterattacks into occupied Zaporizhzhia Oblast, and Russian forces may be disseminating information about mining of the cooling pond and power units to discourage Ukrainian counter-offensive operations. However, Russia demonstrated a willingness to put its own troops in harm’s way after the destruction of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (KHPP), so ISW cannot rule out the potential that Russian forces may be setting conditions to sabotage the ZNPP.

Key Takeaways

  • Russian sources speculated on the specifics of the deal mediated by Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko to end the Wagner Group’s June 23-24 armed rebellion, including the possible involvement of Putin’s chief of staff.
  • The implications of the Lukashenko-Prigozhin deal for the leadership of the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) also remain ambiguous.
  • Wagner forces continued to withdraw from positions in Rostov and on the road to Moscow to their bases on June 25, and the Kremlin’s intended structure for leveraging Wagner fighters remains unclear.
  • Further details emerged on the composition of the Wagner units approaching Moscow on June 24, indicating Prigozhin would likely have struggled in an active conflict in Moscow without additional support.
  • The Russian ultranationalist information space fractured on June 25 between those who want to move past the rebellion and those demanding solutions to the internal security flaws that the rebellion exposed.
  • The ultranationalist Angry Patriots Club held a pre-scheduled event in Moscow on June 25 and espoused longstanding criticisms against Putin and the Russian military leadership, suggesting that the Kremlin will not immediately begin cracking down on antagonistic ultranationalist groups in the aftermath of Prigozhin’s rebellion.
  • Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front.
  • Russian forces’ ability to conduct offensive and defensive operations in Ukraine does not appear to have been substantially impacted by Wagner’s June 23-24 armed rebellion.
  • Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Head Kyrylo Budanov warned on June 23 that Russia has finished preparations for an attack on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
  • A Russian sabotage and reconnaissance group attempted to cross the international border into Sumy Oblast.
  • Russian forces continued limited ground attacks near Svatove, Bakhmut, and along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.
  • Russian and Ukrainian forces conducted limited ground attacks in western Donetsk and western Zaporizhzhia oblasts.
  • Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces maintain positions near the Antonivskyi Bridge in Kherson Oblast.
  • Ukrainian officials continue to report that Russia relies on sanctions evasion schemes to acquire foreign components for weapons production.

Russian occupation authorities continue to weaponize policy regarding children to consolidate social and administrative control of occupied areas.

Wagner Group mercenaries can attack Kyiv from Belarus territory – Former Chief of UK’s General Staff, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Sky News. “General Richard Dannatt, Former Chief of the General Staff of the UK,  believes that Ukraine should beware of a possible attack on Kyiv by the Wagner Group mercenaries led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who left for Belarus after the rebellion attempt. The fact that Prigozhin left for Belarus by agreement with the self-proclaimed Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is a matter of some concern for the former chief of the General Staff of the UK.

If he kept an effective fighting force around him then he presents a threat again to the Ukrainian flank closest to Kyiv, Dannatt added, noting that Russia quite possibly may use the Wagner Group private military company (PMC) for another attempt to capture Kyiv.

Joint Forces Commander on possible attack of Wagner mercenaries from Belarus: It will be nothing but suicide, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Military Media Center. “The commander of the Joint Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Lieutenant General Serhii Naiev, states that there is no build-up of Russian equipment or manpower on the northern border of Ukraine. If the Russians try to cross the border from the north, it will be a suicide for them.

I want to assure everyone that the situation in the northern operating zone remains stable and controlled. Our troops continue to build up their defensive capabilities. All services, from intelligence to engineering troops, are working in an enhanced mode. […]

If this happens and the enemy tries to cross the state border, for them, it will be nothing but suicide. Our soldiers are ready to give a decent response to anyone who dares to cross the state border with weapons in their hands.”

The Kremlin now faces a deeply unstable equilibrium, the Institute for the Study of War assess. “The Lukashenko-negotiated deal is a short-term fix, not a long-term solution, and Prigozhin’s rebellion exposed severe weaknesses in the Kremlin and Russian MoD. Suggestions that Prigozhin’s rebellion, the Kremlin’s response, and Lukashenko’s mediation were all staged by the Kremlin are absurd. The imagery of Putin appearing on national television to call for the end of an armed rebellion and warning of a repeat of the 1917 revolution – and then requiring mediation from a foreign leader to resolve the rebellion – will have a lasting impact.

The rebellion exposed the weakness of the Russian security forces and demonstrated Putin’s inability to use his forces in a timely manner to repel an internal threat and further eroded his monopoly on force. Prigozhin’s rapid drive towards Moscow ridiculed much of the Russian regular forces – and highlighted to any and all security figures, state-owned enterprises, and other key figures in the Russian government that private military forces separate from the central state can achieve impressive results. Wagner’s drive also showcased the degradation of Russia’s military reserves, which are almost entirely committed to fighting in Ukraine, as well as the dangers of reliance on inexperienced conscripts to defend Russia’s borders.

The Kremlin struggled to respond quickly in the information space and residents in Rostov-on-Don residents did not oppose Wagner and in some cases greeted them warmly – not inherently demonstrating opposition to Putin but at minimum acceptance of Prigozhin’s actions. Finally, the Kremlin’s apparent surprise at Prigozhin’s move does not reflect well on Russia’s domestic intelligence service, the FSB. Prigozhin consistently escalated his rhetoric against the Russian MoD prior to his armed rebellion and Putin failed to mitigate this risk. We cannot and will not speculate on the concrete impacts of Prigozhin’s rebellion and the Kremlin’s weak response and are not forecasting an imminent collapse of the Russian government, as some have done. Nonetheless, Prigozhin’s rebellion and the resolution of the events of June 23 and 24 – though not necessarily the Prigozhin/Kremlin struggle writ large – will likely substantially damage Putin’s government and the Russian war effort in Ukraine.

“Countdown begins”: Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council Secretary outlines benefits for Ukraine from Wagner’s revolt, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Oleksii Danilov, Secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, believes that the collapse of Russia is inevitable due to events on 24 June concerning the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC). […] Anything that might go wrong in Russia will go wrong, and this ‘Prigozhin [chief of the Wagner PMC] incident’ may or might have triggered processes with unpredictable consequences. The countdown has begun.

Danilov believes that Prigozhin’s actions are the first stage of putting Putin’s system in disarray, and the Wagner leader is only part of the group and the plan for the disruption process. The NSDC secretary stated that there is a group of security forces, officials and oligarchs in Russia dissatisfied with Putin and that yesterday’s march on Rostov was proof of serious intentions, capabilities and the establishment of conditions for the start of a power transition, either voluntary or forced.

Danilov reckons that the only way for Putin to save himself is to purge the security forces, bring down Wagner, impose martial law in Russia and initiate mass repression. The real group of future Russian negotiators with Ukraine already exists, but it remains in the shadows, although Lukashenko’s participation in this process is not ruled out.”

Berlin suggests that Prigozhin stopped rebellion due to a lack of support, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Spiegel. “The German government assumes that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC), stopped the march to Moscow because he hoped for greater support for his rebellion in Russia. According to the news outlet, on Saturday evening, the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence of Germany informed the heads of the Bundestag committees on foreign affairs and defence about the current development of events. 

During the oral briefing, Tjorven Bellmann, the Political Director of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Zimtje Möller, the Parliamentary State Secretary for Defence, expressed their suspicion that Wagner Group leader Prigozhin did not receive the support from the Russian state forces he was counting on during the coup attempt, so he stopped his campaign to Moscow. 

The representatives of the government could not provide information about the content of the agreement between the Kremlin and Prigozhin, as well as about the whereabouts of Putin, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov during the telephone conversation. According to the news outlet, the foreign affairs and defence committees are to meet for a special meeting at the beginning of the week and discuss this topic.”

Reznikov believes this year to become “game changer” for Ukraine, Ukrinform reports, citing Fox News. “Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov of Ukraine believes that the year 2023 will be a game changer and that Ukraine must win the war with Russia. […] According to Reznikov, the expectations of the counteroffensive results were overestimated, and Ukraine itself is very careful not to expose its brave and motivated fighters to danger. We try to save their lives, Reznikov said. He described the Russian approach to using its troops as a “meat grinder.” He added that the current actions of the Armed Forces are not the main offensive.

Reznikov described the ongoing maneuvering as a preparatory operation, acknowledging that the Russians had built very strong defensive lines. However, according to him, as soon as the counteroffensive fully gets going, it will be successful and one step closer to victory.

On joining NATO, a strong defense against any nuclear attack from Russia, Reznikov is realistic. I’m sure we will be a full-fledged member, but it will take time, he noted. He was not put off by President Biden’s recent comments the US wouldn’t make it easy for Ukraine to join. It’s in their interest for NATO countries to have Ukraine as a member because it knows how to defeat and deter Russian armed forces, Reznikov said. As for Putin’s nuclear threats, Reznikov said he considered it a bluff. […]

As Fox News, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently noted that success in the counteroffensive could put Kyiv in a better position at the negotiation table with Moscow. Commenting on this, Reznikov stated that there will be no negotiations with Russia until the borders of Ukraine as of 1991 are restored. We will be ready to discuss postwar co-existence (with Russia) when they get out of our land, he said.”

  1. Consequences and what to do?

 

Hans Petter Midttun: What has Prigozhin’s “march for justice” achieved? Possibly nothing and everything.

The information available to us is limited and far from conclusive.

We do know that Prigozhin was involved in a long-time feud with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and the Head of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov. Shortly before the “march” he published a video recording in which he held them responsible for deceiving President Putin into launching an unnecessary war against Ukraine. Prigozhin held them responsible for the killing of thousands of Russian soldiers and the destruction of the most combat-ready part of the army in the first days of the war. He accused Gerasimov of a lack of leadership and held both accountable for the state of the Russian Armed Forces and its lack of success on the battlefield.

We also know, however, that Prigozhin himself was an utterly unscrupulous and ambitious military leader willing to do what was needed to achieve his personal aim and objectives. The Wagner Group was designated a «transnational criminal organisation» by the USA for a reason. The list of Wagner military atrocities and war crimes in Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine is extensive. Under his leadership, the Wagner Group is assessed to have loosed about two-thirds of its personnel in battles for Bakhmut and Soledar. He recruited prisoners from the Russian penal system under the promise of freedom if they survived 6 months of service on the frontline. Not many did.

We also know that the Wagner Group was already partly integrated into the system Prigozhin criticised. It was a love-hate relationship from day one. On the one hand, he was the head of a private military company that was illegal according to Russian law. On the other hand, it was appealing to Kremlin as it offered deniability. They could be employed without the state being held accountable for their actions. Additionally, they were seen as both expendable and cost-effective compared to the Russian Armed Forces.

During the last 16 months, however, the PMC has been drawn increasingly closer to the Russian Federation. It’s been tasked to conduct military operations along parts of the frontline of what is an illegal, unjustified and unprovoked war instigated by Russia. Its activities have been closely coordinated with the Armed Forces. They have been given access to access to command and control, intelligence, weapons, ammunition, supplies and not least, the economy needed to conduct warfare.

Prigozhin access to the Russian Penal System is but one of much evidence that he had supporters within both the Russian security and defence sector as well as the Russian elite.

It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that he did not operate in total isolation.

He must have had insight into the political dealings and aspirations of parts of the Russian elite close to Putin. He knew the military realities on the ground in Ukraine and regularly offered assessments of the situation in conflict with the official line. When Kremlin presented success, he talked about Russian failures. When the propagandists promoted victories, he presented defeats and losses. Prigozhin knew the shortcomings of the Russian Armed Forces intimately, including its problems with leadership, morale and motivation.

His “march for justice” might have been just that: An outcry and an attempt to force Kremlin into acknowledging the real military situation in Ukraine.

His ambitions might have been higher and might have expected regular units to join the march against Moscow. His force of approximately 4,000 personnel with 40 to 50 pieces of equipment, including MRAPs, T-90M main battle tanks, BMP infantry fighting vehicles, Pantsir air defence systems, and Grad MLRS systems moving northwards towards Moscow, was not sufficient to take the city.

Either way, he wanted to ensure that Russia did more to achieve victory in Ukraine. Not less. An utterly unscrupulous leader willing to sacrifice as many lives as it would take to defeat Ukraine has been calling for Russia to mobilise for a total war.  Yevgeny Prigozhin has said that Russia should get ready for a difficult war, introduce martial law and announce new waves of mobilisation, as well as “closing all borders” as in North Korea, to save the Russian Federation.

The question is – acknowledging that he probably represented the voice of many within the security and defence sector – did he get the message across?

I suspect he did.

The actions of the Wagner Group revealed a state unprepared for internal revolt. A fundamental lack of military reserves. A security and defence sector decimated by 16 months of war and fully committed in Ukraine. An Air Force incapable of stopping a small group of “rebels” with very limited Air Defence means. The Russian National Guard did not engage the Wagner Group in battle. Border Guards laid down their arms. Even more crucially, the “brigade size” group was able to unopposed transit hundreds of kilometres towards Moscow in less than 24 hours.

So, what follows next?

It will take decades to amend a system as fundamentally broken as the Russian Armed Forces. There are no quick-fix solutions. Russia is left with few options.

If it decides to uphold the war in Ukraine, it either must follow the advice of Yevgeny Prigozhin and mobilise for a total war or trigger the disaster that (in the heads of the Russian leadership) might offer hope for negotiations on Russian terms. I am afraid the destruction of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is one of the options. We should, however, not forget that Ukraine has 9 more nuclear reactors.

Alternatively, Kremlin might just have realised how extremely vulnerable and exposed the Russian Federation is. Its war against Ukraine has put the very existence of the state at risk.

Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, 78, wrote a letter titled “The Eve of War” in which he attacked Putin’s policy of provoking a war despite Russia not facing any critical threats. He feared that the use of military force against Ukraine, firstly, would call into question the existence of Russia itself as a state; secondly, it would forever make Russians and Ukrainians mortal enemies. In addition, he argued that Russia would be included in the category of countries that threaten peace and international security, would be subject to the heaviest sanctions, would turn into a pariah of the world community, and would probably be deprived of the status of an independent state.

Ivashov was supported by retired FSB general Yevgeny Savostyanov, stressing that there is no sane scenario for an attack on Russia by Europe. He warned against an invasion of Ukraine, stressing that big losses would come immediately.

They were not the only critical Russian voice at the time. Many academics signed a letter arguing that:

Russia does not need a war with Ukraine and the West. Nobody threatens us, nobody attacks us. A policy based on promoting the idea of such a war is immoral, irresponsible and criminal, and cannot be carried out on behalf of the people of Russia. Such a war can have neither legitimate nor moral goals. The diplomacy of the country cannot take any other position than the categorical rejection of such a war. The war not only does not correspond to the interests of Russia but also carries a threat to its very existence.”

Their predictions have come true, and the Russian Federation might be facing an existential challenge – not from the West – but from the consequences of its own aggressions. Ironically, parts of their message were reiterated by Yevgeny Prigozhin. Russia was not exposed to a threat and the war has resulted in thousands being killed.

While they called for peace, however, Prigozhin called for more war.

What follows next is one of the two. A transition to peace or more war. That is why the West more than ever needs to demonstrate resolve and force Russia to choose peace. That requires a demonstration of strength to offer President Putin an off-ramp: A declaration of Ukrainian NATO membership and/or military intervention in line with NATO’s previous Strategic Concept and the UN “Responsible to Protect” doctrine.

 

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