While the future of the Wagner mercenary group hangs in the balance following Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s attempted mutiny in Russia, fissures are emerging within Wagner Group itself over whether Prigozhin is worth following anymore.
Vlad, another former Wagner mercenary, criticized Prigozhin’s willingness to ask his fighters to launch a revolt against Russia and turn on their own. He told the outlet that on June 24, the day of the attempted mutiny, he kept asking himself one question: “Will I be able to shoot my comrades?”
Prigozhin staged the rebellion in Russia late last month in an attempt to remove Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and push back against efforts to force Wagner fighters to join the conventional Russian military.
The insurrection appeared to fail, however, with Prigozhin working out a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko to go into exile in Belarus. The fighters have been given the option to move to Belarus or join the military as well.
And while the staged insurrection against Putin and the Kremlin appears to be the largest challenge to Putin’s grip on power in years, throwing the future of Russia and the entire region into unknown territory, Prigozhin himself might be dealing with a disintegrating base of support.
The former mercenaries accused Prigozhin of running a traitorous revolt merely for personal reasons.
Vlad added that he wanted to join Wagner to “defend” Russia, not attack it, and not “out of sympathy for Prigozhin.”
Some lamented that Prigozhin’s revolt appears to have been a waste since whatever change he wanted in the leadership of the country has not materialized at the Kremlin.
“Our comrades have killed each other, a huge amount of military equipment has been destroyed, people are scared, not to mention the damage to the reputation of Russia in the geopolitical arena, and the parquet generals are still in their places.”
Other fighters suggested that the conventional military is overdue for a change, however, and welcomed the revolt in the hopes that the Russian military might take the hint.
“I hope the ‘March for Justice’ has served as a wake-up call for our government to see that it’s time for a change,” Mikhail, another former Wagner mercenary, said.
“The whole of Rostov supported Wagner and Prigozhin… Prigozhin speaks and acts correctly, he did a lot for the country, and Shoigu, I think, never did anything useful,” said Malik, who has fought in Ukraine for Wagner group. “I remain a patriot of my country… The whole of Rostov supported Wagner and Prigozhin.”
It’s not clear what Prigozhin’s future holds at the moment. Days after he called off the mutiny in late June, Prigozhin met with Putin at the Kremlin, Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Monday, according to Interfax. Questions remain as to whether Prigozhin will be safe from reprisal following the revolt as the Kremlin’s influence extends throughout Belarus.
According to Peskov, whose narrative about the course of events frequently strays from the truth, Wagner commanders expressed support for Putin at that meeting.
“The commanders themselves presented their version of what happened, they emphasized that they were staunch supporters and soldiers of the head of state and the supreme commander in chief, and also said that they were ready to continue fighting for the Motherland,” Peskov said.
While the purported deal brokered to end the revolt would have Prigozhin exiled in Belarus, it’s not clear where he will end up. Belarus’ government indicated days after the revolt that Prigozhin had entered Belarus. But just days ago, Lukashenko claimed that Prigozhin was not in Belarus and that he may have returned to Russia.
The future of the Wagner mercenaries themselves hangs in the balance. Field camps in Belarus have appeared to emerge for a likely influx of Wagner fighters to the country. But Lukashenko—who is facing his own political instability following the revolt, according to a U.S. ambassador—has said only time will tell whether Wagner fighters are destined for Belarus.
“We will soon sort out whether they will be in Belarus or not and in what numbers,” he said last week, according to Belta.
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