Ukraine at D+486: The march on Moscow is over.
N2K logoJun 25, 2023

Mr. Prigozhin calls off his march on Moscow and moves to Minsk.

Ukraine at D+486: The march on Moscow is over.

The Wagner Group late yesterday halted its march on Moscow, CNN reports. RT quotes Wagner Group chief Evgeny Prigozhin as saying, “They wanted to disband PMC Wagner. On June 23, we went on a March of Justice in a day. We advanced on Moscow just 200km short, and during this time we did not shed a single drop of the blood of our fighters.” In the evening the Wagnerites began leaving the city of Rostov-on-Don, which they'd occupied and controlled since the early hours of the mutiny. The BBC has a useful overview of yesterday's events.

Belarus is said to have played a role in defusing the mutiny.

State television presenter Vladimir Solovyov yesterday, in his monologue, identified the man of the hour: it's the President of Belarus, who's credited with brokering the deal under which the Wagnerites agreed to stand down. “Today, without a doubt," Solovyov said, "Alexander Grigoryevich [Lukashenka] earned the title of Hero of Russia.”

The state-owned Belarusian Telegraph Agency's (BELTA) English-language service described the role Belarus's President Aleksandr Lukashenka played in negotiating the agreement under which Mr. Prigozhin agreed to stand down. "President of Russia Vladimir Putin talked to Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko over the phone in the morning on 24 June," the report said. "During the phone call Vladimir Putin informed Aleksandr Lukashenko about the situation in Russia's south that had been caused by the private military company Wagner. The heads of state agreed on joint actions. In response to events in Russia Aleksandr Lukashenko held two conferences with top officers of defense, security, and law enforcement agencies. The conference took place in the morning and in the afternoon." And, trading on a personal acquaintance of some two decades, President Lukashenka also opened negotiations with Wagner Group boss Prigozhin.

The results of the negotiations turned on a recognition, BELTA said "that it is unacceptable to start a bloodbath in Russia's territory." Mr. Prigozhin accepted President Lukashenka's proposal under which Russia would drop its criminal charges against Mr. Prigozhin and guarantee the safety of the Wagner Group's fighters. In return, the Wagner Group would halt its march on Moscow (its forces had approached to within 200 kilometers of the capital) and move back to its field garrisons. "At present an absolutely advantageous and acceptable variant to defuse the situation is available, including safety guarantees for fighters of the private military company Wagner," the Belarusian president's press service said. "The Russian president expressed support and thanked the Belarusian counterpart for the work he had done." The BBC reports that Mr. Prigozhin is leaving Russia to take up residence in Belarus.

There had been reports that Mr. Lukashenka had fled Minsk for Turkey, his presidential plane allegedly having been tracked there. These reports, which originated in Belarusian opposition circles and were amplified by the dissident group Charter 97, now seem unfounded. Other reports, summarized by the BBC, said that President Putin had similarly fled Moscow. These, too, were based on aircraft tracking, and they seem equally unfounded.

All isn't forgiven (but a lot seems about to be overlooked).

And the Kremlin says that Wagner Group formations, at least those who didn't take part in the mutiny (or at least turned aside from it at some point), will still be permitted (and presumably encouraged) to sign contracts placing them under tighter Ministry of Defense control. What else did Mr. Prigozhin get, beside remission of sins against the state? He had earlier demanded that Defense Minister Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Gerasimov be handed over to the Wagner Group. When asked whether the two leaders would retain their positions, Reuters reports that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov answered, "These matters are the sole prerogative and within the competence of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief (Putin) in accordance with the constitution of the Russian Federation. Therefore, it is unlikely that these topics could have been discussed in the course of the above-mentioned contacts."

Given the strong language Mr. Putin used in his Saturday address to the nation, the magnanimity of the solution is, as the Kyiv Post dryly observes, "surprising."

Moscow says it's emerged stronger from the crisis.

The Washington Post reports that the US Intelligence Community had seen signs for about two weeks that a Wagnerite mutiny or at least a significant demonstration was a growing possibility. Widespread discontent with the conduct of the war was much in evidence. High among US concerns were fears that Russia's nuclear arsenal might fall into warlords' hands, should the state begin to fracture.

Nonetheless, Russian official sources say that the Russian government and nation emerged from the crisis stronger than ever. RT reports that the Russian Foreign Ministry said Saturday that the incident had strengthened Russian resolve and unity, and that Western attempts to use internal dissension to harm Russia were destined to fail. “The attempted armed rebellion that took place in our country has sparked a sharp rejection in Russian society, which resolutely supports the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. The adventuristic aspirations of the conspirators, in fact, are aimed at destabilizing the situation in Russia [and] destroying our unity. Thus, the rebellion plays into the hands of Russia's external enemies. We warn Western countries against any hint of possible use of the domestic Russian situation to achieve their Russophobic goals. Such attempts are futile and will not find a response either in Russia or among sane political forces abroad,” TASS added more official resolution and reassurance from the Foreign Ministry, quoting official statements to the effect that "'in the near future the situation will be resolved in a way worthy of the ages-old wisdom of the Russian people and the Russian state', and that 'all goals and tasks of the special military operation will be achieved.'"

This is not the view among many Western observers. Commentary in the Telegraph argues that President Putin has lost, whatever the outcome of this particular coup, his monopoly on violence, and sustained a "catastrophic humiliation" in the process. The Wall Street Journal assesses that Mr. Prigozhin's truth-telling about Russia's poor performance and failures in its war against Ukraine has opened the door for more expression of dissatisfaction, and that such dissatisfaction is widespread. The New York Post draws comparisons with the failed 1991 coup Soviet hardliners mounted against Mikhail Gorbachev. It failed quickly, but Gorbachev emerged fatally weakened. Slate draws a similar conclusion. Whatever the outcome of yesterday's brokered agreement, Mr. Putin's rule has been shaken. The Daily Beast writes (demotic argot in its headline) that Mr. Putin's address to the nation "freaked out" its audience rather than reassuring it, or instilling greater resolution. And the Guardian,which also has a summary of press reaction to the incident, sees Mr. Putin's "hubris" as a fatal flaw.

Apart from Belarus, Mr. Putin's outreach to other more-or-less sympathetic governments met with a tepid response, the Telegraph reports. The most common rejoinder he received was a dismissive characterization of the attempted coup as purely a Russian internal matter.

Ukraine resumes its offensive.

The British Ministry of Defence this morning reports a resumption of Ukraine's counteroffensive, "In recent days, Ukrainian forces have re-set and have again been undertaking major offensive operations on three main axes in southern and eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian forces are using the experiences from the first two weeks of the counter-offensive to refine tactics for assaulting the deep, well prepared Russian defences. Ukrainian units are making gradual but steady tactical progress in key areas." There was also a Russian attack. "In Luhansk Oblast, Russian forces have made their own significant effort to launch an attack in the Serebryanka Forest near Kremina. This probably reflects continued Russian senior leadership orders to go on the offensive whenever possible. Russia has made some small gains, but Ukrainian forces have prevented a breakthrough."