The Rise of Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Wagner Group: A Threat to Putin’s Inner Circle?

The past several months have seen the Ukraine conflict turn disastrous, and Russian President Vladimir Putin increasingly turn to Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group, a coalition of militant mercenaries, for support.[0] Prigozhin's troops, made up of a mix of veteran fighters and prisoners promised freedom if they joined his group, proved more successful than the regular army, capturing the city of Bakhmut after long, deadly fighting.[1] However, Prigozhin complained that his men weren't getting enough ammunition and criticised Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the main army commanders for fighting dreadfully and treating their soldiers like cannon fodder. Despite Shoigu's push for the Wagner Group to be brought under the army's control, Prigozhin chose to ignore his request.[1] He released a video on Friday claiming that his militia was being shelled by army troops and announced a war against the high command.[1]

Prigozhin's actions have raised questions about whether officers will split away from Putin, as many have been resentful of Putin's entourage of former FSB agents, a feeling intensified by the influence these spies have had on Putin's war tactics, which were opposed by many officers.[1] Finding officers to defect from Putin may not have been a difficult task for Prigozhin as long as he could prove his potential for victory.[2] Do these officers continue to support Prigozhin?[1] Is Prigozhin going to replace the high-ranking leaders?[1] Will Wagner elevate itself to become the elite unit of the Russian army instead of submitting to it?[1]

The success of Prigozhin’s troops in Ukraine came at tremendous cost, with 20,000 of his forces dead by his public count, a figure the Ukrainian official found credible.[2] During the conflict, Prigozhin vehemently expressed his dissatisfaction with the Russian Defense Ministry's failure to provide him with the necessary equipment and resources to engage in combat. He had made a threat to withdraw all of his troops completely.[2] The documents that were leaked indicate that the top leaders of Russia are concerned about Prigozhin's verbal assaults, which they perceive as legitimate and detrimental to their power.[2]

On Friday morning, Prigozhin published a long video on Telegram in which he argued that the Ukraine invasion was launched for little more than Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s vanity and a corrupt oligarchy’s business interests.[3] He claimed the Russian army was retreating and losing 10 times more soldiers than it would have lost under better military leadership.[3] Prigozhin has fulminated against incompetence and corruption in Russia’s high command for months and has accused Moscow of not giving him the support and equipment he requires.[4] Prigozhin's ultimate victory would have been if Putin had agreed to dismiss Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu or Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, who are both despised by the mercenary leader. However, it was highly unlikely that the Russian president would make such a significant concession.[2]

Prigozhin's actions have caused concern amongst Western officials and Ukrainian military officials, who have long predicted armed conflict between different factions in the Russian military complex.[5] According to the Ukrainian National Resistance Center, Prigozhin allegedly had aspirations to replace Shoigu as the Defense Minister.[6]

Despite his rebellion against the Russian high command, Prigozhin's actions have not yet triggered a broader rupture between Putin’s inner circle and the military leaders he detests. Prigozhin stated his desire to prevent the shedding of “Russian blood.”[7] He declared that the time had arrived for shedding of blood.[7] “Therefore, realising all the responsibility for the fact that Russian blood will be shed from one side, we will turn our convoys around and go in the opposite direction to our field camps.”

The situation remains unclear as to why Putin did not take action to thwart Prigozhin’s takeover of the military command or his move on Moscow. Prigozhin got to within 120 miles of the capital before he turned around after striking a deal, brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a Putin ally.[2] As per the agreement, the criminal charges against Prigozhin will be dismissed. These charges were filed on Friday after he accused Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu of instructing an assault on his hired fighters and urged to terminate the minister's leadership.[2]

0. “Wagner insurrection plunges Russia into uncertainty. Here’s what you need to know” CNN, 24 Jun. 2023,

1. “Wagner Group's Russia coup attempt: Whatever happens next, Putin's control is slipping” Slate, 24 Jun. 2023,

2. “U.S. intelligence learned in mid-June Prigozhin was plotting uprising” The Washington Post, 25 Jun. 2023,

3. “Mutiny in Russia Foreshadows Defeat in Ukraine” Bloomberg, 24 Jun. 2023,

4. “Kremlin says Prigozhin will depart for Belarus after his rebellion fizzles” POLITICO Europe, 24 Jun. 2023,

5. “‘Breathtaking': Lawmakers react to escalating security situation in Russia” POLITICO, 24 Jun. 2023,

6. “What led to Wagner's revolt in Russia? -analysis” The Jerusalem Post, 24 Jun. 2023,

7. “Wagner chief agrees to go to Belarus after calling off rebellion: what we know so far” The Guardian, 25 Jun. 2023,