Prigozhin’s Comic Coup
by Sandhya Jain on 26 Jun 2023 3 Comments

A coup by private army chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, begun in the wee hours of June 24, 2023 (just after midnight of June 23), ended in a whimper less than 24 hours later, with the PMC Wagner chief ordering his troops back to barracks and leaving for exile in Belarus, in a truce negotiated by President Lukashenko, who persuaded Russian President Vladimir Putin to drop charges against his former cook-turned-private militia leader.


Just as CNN, derided as “chicken neck and noodles,” brought the 1991 Gulf War to every drawing room with its live coverage, Twitter gave saturation news and views about the unfolding events in Russia. Western and anti-Putin commentators were visibly dismayed when the challengers caved in before midnight, in an unanticipated climax.


Prigozhin announced that the PMC Wagner Commanders’ Council wanted “justice” for the soldiers of the Russian army, but did not enumerate specific grievances. He claimed late Friday, June 23, that the Russian Defense Ministry had launched a deadly missile strike on a Wagner Group camp; but the ministry claimed this was “an information provocation.” The Russian authorities later said that they had opened a criminal investigation into the Wagner chief for allegedly calling for an armed rebellion.


Türkiye President Erdogan, who had been alerted by Putin about the July 2016 coup against his regime, was quick to extend support to the beleaguered Russian leader. So too did Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, whom Moscow had helped in averting a regime change operation in August 2020. His timely intervention saved Russia from a destructive civil war.  This effectively disproved rumours that the Belarus President had fled to Türkiye for safety.


The Belarus ministry of foreign affairs had earlier tweeted that, “#Belarus has always been & remains an ally of #Russia, fully sharing the goals & objectives of the special military operation (in Ukraine). In fact, this is a battle for the future of the Slavic world. We cannot remain aloof from the events happening in the south of #Russia.”[1]


Confirming the amnesty for Prigozhin and those who participated in the coup attempt, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Wagner fighters who did not participate in the uprising would be given the option of signing contracts with the Ministry of Defense, and integrating with the Russian Army. He stated that there would be “No change in leadership in the Russian army.”[2] None would be prosecuted on account of their “heroic deeds on the front.”[3] Observers believe that the coup was triggered by the move to integrate the private army with the Russian Army, which effectively curtailed Prigozhin’s role in the action in Ukraine.


Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov raced his tanks towards Moscow as reports indicated that Prigozhin was moving from Rostov-on-Don towards the capital. Condemning the “knife in the back”, Kadyrov asserted, “The rebellion must be crushed, and if this requires harsh measures, then we are ready.” His Akhmat fighters entered Rostov from Aksai in the northeast and Red Crimea in the northwest around 9.30 p.m., and the rebellion fizzled out soon after. General Sergey Surovikin urged the commanders of Wagner PMC to obey the orders of the President of the Russian Federation.


Iran offered to send its elite IRGC detachments to assist the Russian government and military [4] and Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the son of Uganda’s President, also offered soldiers to help defend the country.[5]


The Grand Patriarch Kirill called upon Russians to stand by the Federation and the Orthodox Church. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urged the nation to “rally around the President, the Supreme Commander,” and “defeat the external and internal enemy, who is hungry to tear our Motherland.” Some observers alluded to the involvement of external forces in the attempted coup.[6]


The heads of Crimea, Kherson Region, Sevastopol, DPR and LPR declared support for the President and no significant political leader supported the insurrection. However, after the coup fizzled out, the former oil tycoon and anti-Kremlin dissident, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, asked Russians to support the Wagner chief.[7]


Earlier, addressing the nation, President Putin observed that Moscow is fighting an historic war “for the lives and safety of our people, for our sovereignty and independence. For the right to be and remain Russia,” while “repelling aggression from neo-Nazis and their masters” in the West. Appealing for national unity, he urged members of the armed forces “who have been drawn into this criminal gamble by deceit or threats,” to close ranks against the enemy. Russia’s law enforcement agencies, he assured, will take decisive actions to restore order, especially in Rostov-on-Don as anti-terrorist measures have been introduced in Moscow, Moscow Region, and other areas.[8]


Reacting to Putin’s speech, Prigozhin said, “He made the wrong decision. Too bad for him. We will have a new president soon.” Alleging that “Russia is corrupt because of Putin,” he said, “we will destroy everything around us, we are all ready to die - all 25 thousand, and then another 25 thousand, because the Russian people must be liberated.” Videos purported to show the Wagner Chief meeting the commander of the Southern Military District (which contains a quarter of the Russian military) and the Deputy Defense Minister, thus indicating that senior members of the Russian Military could be collaborating in the coup. Wagner had seized the military headquarters in Rostov.


At Rostov-on-Don, there were mixed reports of locals challenging Wagner to get out of the city: “Did you hear what Putin said?”, while others said the locals were supporting the rebels. Later in the afternoon of June 24, the Wagner office in St. Petersburg was raided by police.
But it all ended without action a few hours later.

The situation regarding the fighting remains unclear; Paris-based activist Vladimir Osechkin claimed that the 22nd Special Forces Brigade and some FSB border guards had defected to Prigozhin’s side. If so, this suggests that the coup is well planned with Western sources and is no sudden development.


US analyst Scott Ritter said that Prigozhin was “compromised and is now working for foreign intelligence,” and possibly enjoyed support from “traitors within the Kremlin and the Russian oligarchs” who “would like to get back their yachts” (seized under sanctions imposed on Russia after the special military operation in Ukraine).[9] Others claimed that it was a strange coincidence that the Pentagon detected “an accounting error of $6.2 Billion USD” and a military coup was launched against Moscow 72 hours later.[10] The observers said the coup was possibly aimed at helped US President Joe Bidens’ re-election bid in 2024, on grounds of having toppled President Putin.[11]


The Russian army, meanwhile, scrambled to defend Moscow. An Ka-52 “Alligator” Attack Helicopter bombed the Oil Refinery and Depot in the city of Voronezh to prevent its capture by Wagner Forces were moving towards the city from the South.


Observers note that Prigozhin was lying when he claimed that the Wagner Group was being denied ammunition prior to the capture of Bakhmut. On the contrary, he was probably stockpiling arms, MANPADS and Javelins captured from the Ukrainian Army, for his coup.



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