Russian rebellion abated by Putin’s negotiations

The Russian rebellion was led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, and his troops were marching towards the Russian city of Moscow when they brokered a peace with President Vladimir Putin. // Photo courtesy of Alex Babenko Associated Press

Vladimir Putin has success- fully thwarted the most substantial rebellion against his administration in his 23-year rule over Russia. The 24-hour period of chaos concluded on the evening of June 25 when Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the rebellion, ordered his troops to halt their march on the capital city of Moscow. The insur- rection is emblematic of the cracks forming in Putin’s regime and spurs uncertainty for its future.

Prigozhin led his supporters on a self-proclaimed “march for justice” to the capital, citing poor leadership in the war with Ukraine as their cause.

The troops reached the out- skirts of Moscow unharmed and, instead of being met with swift resistance, Prigozhin ordered the army to disband, as he had brokered a peace with Putin and the Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko.

“In 24 hours we got to within 200km [124 miles] of Moscow,” Prigozhin said, according to BBC News. “In this time we did not spill a single drop of our fighters’ blood.”

The Wagner Group is a state-sponsored legion of mercenaries that operates separately from Russia’s Ministry of Defense. Prigozhin is their general, and in addition to leading many successful military campaigns, he was thought to have been a close confidant of Putin.

This alliance deteriorated over the course of the war against Ukraine, as Wagner’s troops gradually integrated with the Russian army, reducing Prigozhin’s influence. He claims that his people have experienced mistreatment from the army, and in an effort to garner support for this claim, he accused the government of a series of atrocities against his troops.

“They launched strikes on our camps,” Prigozhin said in a voice message posted toTelegram, an instant messaging service. “A huge amount of our fighters were killed. Our comrades in arms. We will make a decision about how to respond to this. The next step is ours.”

According to a senior United States official, whose identity is protected, this is an invalid claim that sought to mobilize troops under false pretenses.

According to ABC news, “the plan came to fruition on Friday when Prigozhin said in a video that Wagner fighters had been killed by Russian missile strikes and vowed to punish Shoigu and Russia’s chief of general staff. The claim was ‘basically a hoax,’ according to the senior official.”

Prigozhin announced that he would confront the president directly if they failed to fulfill his demands, and the following morning, he marched to Moscow with over 25,000 troops per BBC News. At 10 a.m. that same morning, Putin released a televised address denouncing the rebellion.

“Any actions that split our nation are essentially a betrayal of our people, of our comrades-in-arms who are now fighting at the frontline,” Putin said. “This is a knife in the back of our country and our people. Those who staged the mutiny and took up arms against their comrades – they have betrayed Russia and will be brought to account. I urge those who are being dragged into this crime not to make a fatal and tragic mistake but make the only right choice: to stop taking part in criminal actions.”

Putin’s address did not hinder the insurrection’s momentum, as the mutinous army encountered scarce conflict on their armed march to Moscow. The citizens of Moscow grew anxious as they were made aware through news outlets of an “armed rebellion” approaching the city. Instead of confronting Prigozhin with an army, Putin retaliated with negotiations for amnesty with the Belarusian president.

At 7 p.m. that day, Prigozhin ordered all troops to halt on the grounds that Russian blood would be spilled “on one side” and that all soldiers present should return to their field camps.

As per their negotiation, Prigozhin was to be exiled to Belarus with Putin’s promise that the Kremlin would not press any charges against him or his army. Thus, the insurrection concluded without bloodshed.

According to some experts, Putin’s benevolence toward the insurrectionists has revealed the weakening foundation of the Kremlin regime.

“This is not a 24-hour blimp,” says John Herbst, US ambassador to Ukraine, to CNN. “It’s like Prigozhin is the person who looked behind the screen at the Wizard of Oz and saw the great and terrible Oz was just this little frightened man. Putin has been diminished for all time by this affair.”

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also commented on the rebellion’s implications regarding the war between the two nations and the possibility of a counter-offensive.

“Russia’s weakness is obvious,” he said on Twitter. “Full-scale weakness. And the longer Russia keeps its troops and mercenaries on our land, the more chaos, pain, and problems it will have for itself later,” Zelenskyy said.

Furthermore, though the conflict appeared to be settled, the Kremlin continues to release contradictory statements as recently as this week.

“Russian state media said charges against Prigozhin had not been dropped,” CNN says, “and since Belarus is an enfeebled client of Russia, it can surely offer little safety for Prigozhin.”

The rebellion has produced an air of uncertainty within Russia, which some perceive as initial signs of the deterioration of Putin’s regime. The world, especially Russian citizens, will be observing his next moves keenly as Prigozhin lives free in Belarus and the war in Ukraine continues.