Beginning June 23rd, 2023, and ending June 24th, was a series of unprecedented events in the contemporary history of Russia. Yevgeny Prignozhin, Russian billionaire and leader of the PMC Wagner Group, led an attempted coup deep into the Russian Federation. According to Russian media, the brazen march towards Moscow by potentially up to 20,000 Wagner troops was an overt challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin, an indication of the chaos enveloping the seats of power in Russia. In this article, Strike Source will lay out the events that began in Ukraine and ended in Russia and Belarus.
On June 23, 2023, according to Telegram videos posted to accounts associated with PMC Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed a rocket attack on rear bases in Ukraine killed Wagner forces. In a fiery rant posted to Telegram by the Wagner chief, Prigozhin placed heavy blame on the Russian Ministry of Defense:
“A missile attack was carried out on the camps of PMC Wagner. Many victims. According to eyewitnesses, the strike was delivered from the rear; that is, it was delivered by the military of the RF [Russian Federation] Ministry of Defense.”
As the Ukrainian conflict continues, relations between the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD)and PMC Wagner have deteriorated. The tension between Wagner and the MoD has increased partly due to Prigozhin’s vocal and public criticism of the MoD’s prosecution of the war effort and the delay of supplies to Wagner troops. Prigozhin blamed Wagner’s casualties on the Russian MoD and vowed revenge.
“Those who destroyed today our guys…who destroyed tens of thousands of lives of Russian soldiers will be punished,” he stated in a video response to the attacks. These claims have not been verified. The Wagner founder referred to any actions taken by his organization as “…not a military coup; this is a march of justice.”
According to the statements made by Prigozhin on Telegram, rockets fired by the Russian MOD have killed a “significant” number of Wagner fighters. Another claim that could not be independently verified at this time. These statements were the pretext for Wagner’s next move. June 24th at 7:30 am local time, Wagner took control of the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don 417 miles east of the border with occupied Ukraine. Rostov is the main logistical hub for Russian forces in Ukraine.
Wagner forces took control of the Rostov-on-Don military headquarters and were seen throughout the city. Prigozhin met with Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov and Military Intelligence Deputy Vladimir Alekseev. A portion of the meeting was recorded at the Southern Military District HQ.
Russian Government Response
The Russian MoD released a statement via their official Telegram channel “All messages and video frames distributed on social networks on behalf of E. Prigozhin about allegedly delivering a strike by the RF Ministry of Defense on the rear camps of PMC Wagner do not correspond to reality and are an informational provocation.” The Russian government issued an arrest warrant for Prigozhin on charges of mutiny.
Just after 10:00 am Moscow time, Putin addressed the nation, stating, “This is a criminal campaign, equivalent to armed mutiny,” going on to say, “These people will be brought to justice on behalf of our people.” Putin accused Wager of “a stab in the back.”
Wagner allegedly shot down Russian military helicopters in Voronezh Oblast, about 400 miles south of Moscow. Pictures and videos along the highway showed destroyed Russian helicopters that engaged the Wagner columns en route to Moscow. The Russian Mi-8MTPR-1 helicopters are designed to detect and suppress electronic command-and-control systems and the radars of surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles. Wagner reportedly downed two of these aircraft. Amidst the chaos, tanks and other military vehicles were spotted moving into position in Moscow and other Russian cities, including St. Petersburg.
Around 08:00 pm Moscow time, the press service of the Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko issued a statement saying that he held negotiations with Prigozhin in furtherance of the agreements with President Putin.
“This morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin informed his Belarusian counterpart about the situation in southern Russia involving the Wagner private military company. The heads of state agreed on joint actions. In line with the agreements, the President of Belarus, after clarifying the situation through his own channels, held negotiations with the leader of the Wagner PMC, Yevgeny Prigozhin,” the statement said.
The press service added that the negotiations resulted from an agreement “on the inadmissibility of unleashing a bloody massacre on the territory of Russia.”
“Yevgeny Prigozhin accepted the proposal of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to halt the movement of armed personnel of the Wagner PMC on the territory of Russia and take further steps to de-escalate tensions,” the statement noted.
“At the moment, there is a completely advantageous and acceptable option on the table for resolving the situation, with guarantees of security for the Wagner PMC fighters,” Lukashenko’s press service stated.
Commenting on the news, the press secretary of the Russian President, Dmitry Peskov, said Moscow was grateful to Lukashenko for his efforts to resolve the situation “without further losses and escalating tensions.” He also provided some details of the agreement, according to which the Wagner fighters would return to their camps, and those who were not involved in the events on June 23-24 would have the opportunity to sign contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defense. At the same time, the case against Prigozhin would be dropped, and he would leave for Belarus. According to Peskov, the “word of the President of Russia” guaranteed the latter.
The Wagner fighters who took part in the events on Saturday have been promised not to be pursued “taking into account their merits on the front lines.”
“The highest goal was to avoid bloodshed, internal confrontation, and clashes with unpredictable results. It is in the name of these objectives that Lukashenko’s mediation efforts have been implemented,” said Peskov.
Personnel matters of the Russian Ministry of Defense were not discussed during the negotiation process. “These issues fall within the exclusive prerogative and competence of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief in accordance with the Constitution of the Russian Federation, so these topics could hardly have been discussed during the mentioned contacts,” Peskov emphasized.
According to some Russian military Telegram channels, Aleksey Dyumin, who has been the Governor of Tula Oblast since 2016 and previously served as the chief security guard and assistant of President Putin, played a significant role in reaching a deal with Wagner by staying in touch with the group’s founder Dmitry Utkin.
This is unprecedented in the two decades of Vladimir Putin’s tenure. Putin is more vulnerable now than he’s ever been. Yevgeny Prigozhin has been in Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion, and for this, he has gained the respect of not only the fighting men of Russia but its general population. He has called out the Russian elite and military leaders for their role in the shortcomings of the Russian war effort. The situation continues to evolve, and we will closely monitor events in Russia.