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Infighting between Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the mercenary Wagner Group, and the Russian miliary leadership over the conduct of the military campaign in Ukraine, has been threatening to spill over into the political realm for some time.

Prigozhin questions the rationale for the invasion of Ukraine 

That public feud escalated in mid-June 2023, seemingly in response to efforts by the Russian Defence Ministry to bring the Wagner Group under its control, after Prigozhin openly questioned the justification for the invasion of Ukraine.  

Saying that Ukraine had never threatened to attack Russia, Prigozhin accused Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov of using the conflict to gain power and influence.  In the process he insinuated that President Putin had been manipulated and the Russian people were being lied to about the rationale for the invasion.

Wagner’s “march for justice”

An attack on Wagner Group forces on 23 June 2023, allegedly by the Russian military, and the failure of the Russian military leadership to meet his demands prompted Prigozhin to declare a “march for justice”. Over the next 24 hours Wagner group forces took control of the southern Russian city of Rostov on Don, across the border from Ukraine, and then proceeded to head north towards Moscow. At the time, Prigozhin’s intentions were unclear.

Prigozhin is exiled 

President Putin initially condemned Prigozhin’s actions as treasonous and said they would “inevitably be punished”. However, less than 12 hours later a deal was struck with Prigozhin, brokered by the Belarusian President, Alexandr Lukashenko. Prigozhin pulled back his forces, claiming that he didn’t want bloodshed, although it is considered more likely that he sought but failed to win military support for his armed rebellion. He later went on say that Wagner forces wanted to “demonstrate our protest” and that the intention was not to overthrow the Russian government.

What next for Russia and President Putin? 

Now the immediate crisis has been averted, attention has turned to what Yevgeny Prigozhin’s short lived mutiny against the Russian miliary leadership has demonstrated and what it may mean for President Putin personally.

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