Members of the Wagner Group watch from a military vehicle in Rostov-on-Don late on June 24, 2023.
Roman Romokhov | AFP | Getty Images
The recent Wagner uprising has exposed deep divisions in Russia’s military and raised questions about what it all means for the mercenary group’s fighters and war in Ukraine.
Within a chaotic few hours on June 24, Wagner’s group launched an apparent rebellion by sending an armored convoy toward the Russian capital. It marked what many see as the biggest challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authority during his more than two decades in power.
However, the short-lived uprising was abruptly called off when Wagner’s boss Yevgeny Prigozhin agreed to de-escalate the situation and ordered his fighters advancing on Moscow to return to their bases.
As a result, many observers of Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine have wondered what the future holds for the Wagner Group, both in Europe and around the world.
The Institute for the Study of War, an American think tank, he said in its latest assessment of Russia’s offensive campaign that the Kremlin may seek to take formal control of the Wagner Group and turn it into a state-owned enterprise, although it is not yet clear whether this is the Kremlin’s intention.
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with soldiers at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 27, 2023.
Mikhail Tereshchenko | AFP | Getty Images
“The nationalization of Wagner would likely help the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) to integrate existing Wagner personnel into the regular Russian armed forces through contracts,” ISW said on Thursday.
“The Kremlin has not indicated that it intends to nationalize Wagner, and it is possible that Putin has yet to determine what steps he will take to bring the group more firmly under Kremlin control.”
Putin said on Tuesday that members of the Wagner mercenary group were fully financed and supplied by the state. It was the first time a longtime Russian president publicly acknowledged that the group was funded by the Kremlin.
ISW also noted that recent satellite imagery collected between June 15 and June 27 showed active construction at the speculated new Wagner base in Asipovich, Belarus. The site, the think tank said, is within 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) of a large Belarusian combined arms training site.
He adds that Wagner’s personnel may be deployed elsewhere in Belarus, and there is “nothing unusual” about Wagner’s potential base in Asipovich.
Wagner Group’s Prigiozhin arrived in Belarus on Tuesday shortly after agreeing to leave Russia in a deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus is Russia’s ally in Putin’s war in Ukraine.
Analysts told CNBC earlier this week that the impact of the Wagner uprising could mean that Russia’s most effective unit in Ukraine is now out of the war, potentially weakening the performance of Moscow’s forces on the battlefield.
Since then, the Pentagon he saidhowever, that the US continues to see “some elements” of Wagner’s group in Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine.
“Regarding the future of the Wagner Group, that’s really a question that would be best addressed by Russia, which of course…funds the Wagner Group and how they will be employed for the rest of this conflict and elsewhere around the world because…They also have operations in Africa and also in Syria ,” Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder told reporters Thursday.
BANGUI, CAR – March 22, 2023: The Russian flag hangs on the monument of Russian instructors in Bangui, during a march in support of the presence of Russia and China in the CAR. The Wagner Group has been operating in the country since 2018, supporting the government of President Faustin-Archange Touadéry and filling the security vacuum in France.
BARBARA DEBOUT/AFP via Getty Images
Asked in a press release how many Wagner fighters are currently active in Ukraine following last weekend’s uprising, Ryder said some units of the mercenary group were still in the country, but declined to provide a background figure.
“That’s something we’ll continue to monitor. It’s too early for that,” Ryder said.
“My observation in this whole analysis of what could happen next is that there is a danger that we won’t see the wood for the trees,” Christopher Granville, managing director of global policy research at TS Lombard, told CNBC by phone.
It is essential to stay focused on the battle in Ukraine, Granville said, adding that Putin’s political future depends on the outcome of the war. “That’s really what it boils down to,” he added.
Granville said that, at best, the Wagner Group in Ukraine would likely be “a shadow of its former self” after the uprising.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday dismissed questions about the political crisis.
Lavrov said at a press conference that Moscow will always emerge stronger and more resilient from any difficulties, Reuters reported. He added that if the West has doubts about Russia’s stability, that is its problem.
Elsewhere, Russian General Sergei Surovikin, the deputy commander of Russian forces fighting in Ukraine, was believed to have been detained following the Wagner uprising. The Associated Press reported about it Thursday, citing two people familiar with the matter and Ukrainian intelligence reports.
CNBC was unable to independently verify the report. It comes at a time of intense speculation about whether Surovikin played a role in Wagner’s rebellion.
Alexey Melnikov, Secretary of the Russian Public Monitoring Committee, denied According to the state news agency TASS, Surovikin was being held in Moscow’s Lefortovo pre-trial detention center or any other temporary detention facility.
James Nixey of London think tank Chatham House he said in a report outlining a sustainable and just end to the Ukraine war, that the potential for political instability in Russia “should not be a deterrent to Ukraine forcing an advantage.”
“The Wagner Group coup attempt … really showed that domestic unrest can offer Ukraine a tactical advantage,” Nixey said Thursday.
His comments echoed the view of other analysts who monitor Russia’s war in Ukraine some Ukrainian forces may seek to take advantage of confusion among the Russian military leadership.