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Aftermath of the Wagner Group armed insurrection: Outlook scenarios and key indicators for Russia and Belarus

By Aditya Pareek, Josh Beesley & Eleanor Wride

The Kremlin's tentative response, which was limited to targeting the group's founder Yevgeny Prigozhin's businesses instead of imposing criminal liability charges and prosecuting him, may lead to challenges to Russian President Vladimir Putin's power in the short and medium term. The cascading effects of the armed insurrection are likely to be felt not only by Russia but by the regime in Belarus as well.

Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin launched an armed insurrection on 23 June into Russian territory. Prigozhin aborted the insurrection on 24 June following an agreement with the Kremlin brokered by Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko. Prigozhin initially claimed in a 23 June statement that the insurrection was aimed at removing Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. Prigozhin also announced his intention to reach Moscow with Wagner troops.

However, in a 26 June statement Prigozhin claimed his intention was not to overthrow the government but to protest. According to several statements since 24 June, the Kremlin said Wagner Group personnel had three choices – quit the mercenary business and return to civilian life in Russia; sign a contract with the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) and continue to serve Russia either in the war in Ukraine or abroad; or move to Belarus away from Russia's national jurisdiction. While the deal's terms, brokered by Lukashenko and confirmed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, include the Federal Security Service (Federal'naya sluzhba bezopasnosti: FSB) dropping the criminal charges against Prigozhin and the insurrectionist Wagner Group troops, it required Prigozhin to leave Russia for Belarus, with uncertainty on his ability to retain any of his businesses and revenue streams. As of 5 July it is unclear how Wagner Group personnel who choose to sign contracts with the MoD may be potentially restructured.

Control of Wagner operations

In a 27 June statement Putin revealed that the Wagner Group was totally funded by the Russian state between May 2022 and May 2023. According to Putin, the Wagner Group was paid RUB86.2 billion (nearly USD1 billion) for salaries and bonuses and RUB110.2 billion (USD1.22 billion) for insurance payments while Prigozhin's Concord Group of companies also received RUB80 billion (USD891 million) for catering contracts related to the Russian army, totalling over RUB276 billion (nearly USD3 billion) paid to Prigozhin.

In a 2 July broadcast Russian state TV presenter Dmitry Kiselyov further revealed that Prigozhin's companies had received nearly RUB2 trillion (USD23 billion) from state contracts over an unspecified period. According to Russian media and international reporting on 30 June, Russia's media and web regulator Roskomnadzor blocked the websites of news outlets linked to Prigozhin including RIA FAN, Politics Today, Economy Today, Neva News, and People's News. According to Russian media reporting on 3 July, following the ban, Prigozhin started to liquidate his media empire consisting of social media platform ‘ЯRus', Internet Research Agency, and several news outlets. Russian media also reported that the Russian MoD and many state-run educational institutions cancelled their catering contracts with Prigozhin's Concord Group.

According to a 26 June statement by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, Wagner personnel will continue to serve as instructors abroad. Lavrov clarified that Moscow's co-operation with its allies in countries such as the Central African Republic, Mali, and Syria will not be affected by the armed insurrection.

According to Russian and international media reporting, the Russian authorities including the MoD are likely taking increasingly direct control over Wagner Group personnel abroad. However, as of 5 July the details are unclear.

Kremlin insiders and elite dynamics

A significant number of Russia's regional governors including Novgorod's Andrey Nikitin, Tver's Igor Rudenya, Dagestan's Sergei Melikov, and Arkhangelsk's Sergei Tsybulsky spoke publicly in support of Putin. A notable exception was the governor of Tula, Aleksey Dyumin, whose region was part of the Wagnerites' route to Moscow. Dyumin did not publicly release a statement of support for either Putin or Prigozhin. Dyumin's choice to not declare a state of emergency, unlike other governors of affected regions, signals he may not have been part of the effort to rally behind Putin during the armed insurrection.

Other notable figures such as Russian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Kirill, former President Dmitry Medvedev, Chairman of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin, Head of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko, and Head of Republic of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov also publicly declared their support for the Russian president.

Despite the expression of public support, the Russian elite are unlikely to have been unaffected by the insurrection. Janes assesses that elite support for Putin's regime is co-ordinated with a complex patronage system of kleptocratic insiders who owe their positions as heads of lucrative state enterprises, ministries, and institutions to their loyalty to the regime. Competition, disputes, and contentions among Putin's inner circle of kleptocratic elites have occasionally surfaced. However, they have never directly led to an armed insurrection before the events on 23 June.