Vladimir Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin
Vladimir Putin tours Yevgeny Prigozhin's Concord food catering factory in 2010. Photo credit: Government of the Russian Federation / Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)

Russia is in turmoil after Putin speaks of treason and the Wagner paramilitary group says the country will soon have a new leader.

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If you are looking to find out with certainty what is going on in Russia, this isn’t the place. But, to be fair, it is likely that even President Vladimir Putin and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner paramilitary group, don’t know for sure.

Here is what we do know: Things are escalating quickly, and what began as a conflict between the Wagner Group and Russia’s Ministry of Defense has become a potential coup after Putin clearly sided with the latter.

After the Russian leader called the uprising an “armed mutiny,” the Wagner Group responded that the president “made the wrong choice. All the worse for him. Soon we will have a new president.”

It all began early on Saturday, when units of the mercenary group occupied key military installations in Rostov-on-Don. These included the headquarters from where Russia is running its attacks on Ukraine.

Initially, it seems that there is not a lot of actual fighting going on between the mercenaries and regular Russian troops.

The latest intelligence update of the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence said that additional Wagner units are “almost certainly aiming to get to Moscow,” and that it looks like, for now, regular Russian security forces have likely “remained passive.”

“Over the coming hours, the loyalty of Russia’s security forces, and especially the Russian National Guard, will be key to how the crisis plays out,” the intelligence assessment said. “This represents the most significant challenge to the Russian state in recent times.”

We also know that Putin isn’t happy… and there seems to be no reason why he should be.

In an address to the country, he sharply condemned the uprising, calling it an “armed mutiny” and “treason.”

“Anyone who consciously went on the path of betrayal, who prepared the armed mutiny, went on the path of blackmail and terrorist actions, will take an inevitable punishment,” Putin said, according to a translation of his speech.

It is possible that Prigozhin had hoped that Putin would side with him in the dispute with Russian military leaders.

However, now that this hasn’t happened, both sides seem to be committed to the paths they chose.

“OK, so both sides are now all in,” commented Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador in Russia, in response to the Wagner Group saying that Putin made the wrong choice.

Therefore, it appears as though it will only be a matter of time before outright fighting erupts between Wagner units and regular Russian forces… unless Prigozhin backs down or the Russian military lays down its arms or joins him.

Right now, neither of those seems likely.

So, in the end, is this a coup, as Putin says, or a “March for Freedom,” which is what Prigozhin calls it?

When the dust settles, the victor will tell us.


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