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A Very Short Rebellion in Russia

Rostov-on-Don, Russia —(Map)

On Friday, a military group that’s paid to work with Russia threatened to attack the country instead. By Saturday, the two sides reached an agreement to work together again. But the temporary rebellion has shocked Russia and left President Vladimir Putin weaker.

When Mr. Putin began his war on Ukraine in February, 2022, he was mainly using Russia’s own soldiers. But soon, another group of fighters joined the battle. These were professional soldiers who were paid by a company called the Wagner Group. The Wagner Group has tens of thousands of soldiers working for it.

     Soldiers who work for a company instead of a country are called “mercenaries”. Mercenaries sometimes break the rules of war that soldiers are normally expected to follow. That’s especially true for the mercenaries from Wagner. Many of Wagner’s mercenaries are criminals who were let out of jail just so they could help Russia fight Ukraine.


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Last Friday, the Wagner Group – a military group that’s paid to work with Russia – threatened to attack the country instead. Wagner is led by Yevgeny Prigozhin (above), who used to work closely with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Wagner is led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has also spent time in jail. In the past, Mr. Prigozhin worked closely with Mr. Putin, doing many favors for him. Experts say Mr. Putin used Wagner’s soldiers to do jobs that he didn’t want to ask Russian soldiers to do. Wagner’s mercenaries have fought for Russia in many other parts of the world besides Ukraine.

Wagner’s soldiers have played an important part in many battles in Ukraine. But as the war has continued, tension has grown between Mr. Prigozhin and Russia’s military, which is under Mr. Putin’s control. Russia’s military leaders don’t like a business leader having so much power. Mr. Prigozhin has strongly criticized the actions of Russia’s military leaders.

Recently, a new rule was passed, requiring Wagner’s soldiers to join Russia’s regular army. Mr. Prigozhin didn’t like this idea, since it meant he would lose control of his forces.

Map showing the PMC Wagner's brief mutiny during June 24, 2023.
Mr. Prigozhin called for a “march for justice”. He sent 25,000 of Wagner’s soldiers who were fighting in Ukraine back to Russia. They took control of the city Rostov-on-Don, and later headed for the capital, Moscow (see map above).
(Source: Rr016 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

Last Friday, Mr. Prigozhin accused Russia’s military of attacking Wagner’s soldiers. In response, he called for a “march for justice”. He turned 25,000 of Wagner’s soldiers away from the fighting in Ukraine, and sent them back to Russia. Wagner soldiers took control of the city Rostov-on-Don, as well as the military bases there.

On Saturday, Mr. Prigozhin demanded that Russia get rid of its top two military leaders, or Wagner’s forces would march on Russia’s capital, Moscow. Mr. Putin soon responded, accusing Wagner’s soldiers of treason and rebellion. He promised strong punishments for everyone involved.

Wagner’s soldiers began the long trip toward Moscow. There was fighting along the way. Russia’s military damaged important roads and bridges, trying to stop Wagner’s soldiers from reaching the capital. Still, Wagner’s forces came within 120 miles (200 kilometers) of Moscow.

A nighttime image of a Wagner PMCS tank with flowers in the muzzle in Rostov-on-Don after the end of the Wagner Group rebellion in Russia.
On Saturday night, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said he had reached a deal with the two sides. Wagner’s soldiers would return to Ukraine and would not be punished. Mr. Prigozhin agreed to live in Belarus. Above, a Wagner tank in Rostov-on-Don after the deal was reached.
(Source: Fargoh [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

On Saturday night, Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, announced that he had reached a deal with the two sides. Wagner’s soldiers would turn around and go back to Ukraine. In exchange, none of them would be punished. Wagner soldiers who hadn’t rebelled would be able to join Russia’s military. Mr. Prigozhin had agreed to go live in Belarus.

Mr. Prigozhin seems to have lost power in the deal, but the events have also left Mr. Putin looking very weak. Mr. Putin has led Russia for nearly 24 years, and was seen as someone who could never be challenged. The rebellion was short, but it showed Mr. Putin struggling for control, forgiving people who attacked him, and turning to an outside leader to help solve his problems.

Did You Know…?
The situation is far too confusing for anyone to know for certain how these events will affect Russia’s war on Ukraine. But many people think the strong disagreements between the Wagner Group and Russia’s military could help Ukraine in the war.


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