‘All bets are off’: an uncertain future after Wagner mutiny

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By Webdesk


After the short-lived mutiny of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government find themselves in unfamiliar territory. The crisis seems to have been averted for the time being, but what happens next for Russia and the Wagner Group remains uncertain.

“All bets are off,” Keir Giles, a senior consulting fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House, told Al Jazeera on Sunday.

“We just don’t have solid data points that we can rely on to figure out what’s going to happen next.”

The events, which began on Saturday, seemed to take everyone but the battle-hardened mercenary group by surprise. Wagner forces quickly took control of Rostov, one of Russia’s largest cities, where they met minimal resistance from local security forces and occupied the regional military headquarters.

They continued to march on Moscow before Prigozhin ordered his mercenaries to turn back 200 km (124 mi) from the capital. He agreed to go into exile in Belarus after making a deal with the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko.

The mutiny seems over, but the fate of the mercenary group that has proved so influential in Ukraine, as well as in Syria and many African countries, remains to be seen.

Uncertainty surrounding Lukashenko deal

The Kremlin has publicly announced aspects of the deal, including the agreement that Prigozhin will be allowed to go to Belarus without criminal charges.

Lukashenko’s office said the settlement includes security guarantees for Wagner troops, but details are sparse and, according to Giles, confusing.

“There are too many unanswered questions surrounding this supposed deal they’ve come to, but even the questions that seem to have been answered make no sense,” Giles said.

Joana de Deus Pereira, a senior research fellow at RUSI Europe, told Al Jazeera it is “critical to exercise caution and critically analyze the information” that has come out of Russia in the past 24 hours.

“Nothing is what it seems, and what it seems is often not what it is,” she said in an email.

The uncertain future of Prigozhin

Public challenges to the Russian president rarely end well, with many leading critics, such as opposition figure Alexey Navalny, often ending up poisoned or dying under suspicious circumstances.

“People who thwart Vladimir Putin often have a bad track record of falling out of windows in Russia. We’ve seen them eliminated with little fanfare and in multiple, very brutal ways,” Colin Clarke, research director at The Soufan Group, told Al Jazeera.

On Saturday, in a televised address, Putin accused Prigozhin of “betrayal” and “betrayal” and described his actions as “a stab in the back of our troops and the people of Russia”.

“All those who have prepared the uprising will inevitably be punished,” Putin said, adding: “The armed forces and other government agencies have received the necessary orders.”

Clarke said Prigozhin’s deal with Belarus doesn’t necessarily guarantee his safety.

“I don’t think Putin will retaliate and punish Prigozhin if he thinks it’s necessary, and I think he probably will,” he said.

Putin has also proven not very accepting of criticism of Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine, calling for a “self-purge” to rid his country of anyone who questions the invasion.

Prigozhin publicly questioned the rationale behind Ukraine’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

“The Defense Ministry is trying to mislead the public and the president and twist the narrative that there were crazy levels of aggression from the Ukrainian side and they would attack us along with the entire NATO bloc,” he said in a statement. post on his Telegram channel.

Since the Lukashenko deal was struck, Putin and top Russian officials have remained tight-lipped about Prigozhin’s future.

However, other Putin-affiliated leaders have criticized the Wagner chief, including Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Deus Pereira believes that Prigozhin will “keep quiet for the next few days”, having left Rostov to much fanfare.

“This is one of his biggest goals – he was recognized by the people,” she explained.

Prigozhin’s post-deal rhetoric may also have been a public relations exercise, according to Deus Pereira.

After the deal was made, she said, Prigozhin claimed it was to prevent “Russian blood” from being shed — and he projected an image of “dignity” that contrasted with the “manifestations of warlordship Kadyrov portrayed” .

Wagner troops will not be charged under the deal

The Russian government has said they will not prosecute Wagner fighters who took part in the mutiny, while those who did not take part would receive contracts from the Defense Ministry.

Prigozhin ordered his troops to return to their field camps in Ukraine, where they had fought alongside regular Russian soldiers.

On Saturday, Russian media reported that Wagner forces downed several helicopters and a military communications aircraft. The Russian Defense Ministry has not commented on these events.

“While Prigozhin may be the face of the group, Wagner is a product and creation of the Putin regime to operate in various scenarios with plausible deniability. This will continue, possibly under a new name,” said Deus Pereira.

consequences in Africa

Saturday’s events could have major ramifications in Africa, where the mercenary group is playing an increasingly central role in long-running internal conflicts.

The United States has accused the group of exploiting natural resources in Mali, the Central African Republic and elsewhere to fund fighting in Ukraine.

The group is also accused of playing an active role in Sudan, where a civil war is raging.

A suspension of Wagner activities in Africa could have an impact on the group’s finances.

However, Clarke believes that the influence of the Wagner Group abroad could help protect against complete isolation by the Russian government.

“The Kremlin cannot marginalize Wagner,” he said. “Russia and Vladimir Putin depend on and even need the Wagner group to implement Russian foreign policy not only in Ukraine, but around the world, in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic, Mali and elsewhere .”





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