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The Wagner Group and Putin's War Machine Crisis


This page is being updated in real time. Check back often for latest news. 

  • BREAKING: The Wagner group is building a new headquarters after merging with Russia’s national guard, new leader Anton Yelizarov has claimed.

  • U.S. intelligence reportedly believes that Russia’s Wagner paramilitary organization plans to send Hezbollah a short-range air defense system that currently belongs to the Syrian military.  Moscow may intend this as a warning to Israel. 

  • Wagner Boss Yevgeny Prigozhin is confirmed dead after his plane was shot down near the Tver region, north of Moscow. 

    • The aircraft was non-military.

    • Prigozhin had an immunity deal with the Russian government following his failed uprising in June 2023.  He was supposed to live in exile in Belarus with his troops no longer participating in the Russia-Ukraine war. 

    • A memorial service has been held for the 62-year-old mercenary chief. ​

  • The United Kingdom has declared Russia’s Wagner group a banned terrorist organization. The order has banned membership in Wagner or support for the mercenary group, which has been a critical piece of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The group has also operated in Syria and multiple countries in Africa. This ban comes with a potential jail sentence of 14 years which can be handed down alongside or in place of a fine.

What's Happening in Russia?

In June 2023, a large-scale conflict nearly broke out in Russia being cited by many news outlets in the early hours as a “Russian Civil War.” What ultimately happened is unclear in every detail, but one thing is to be sure - Putin’s leadership is straining.

The Wagner Group, a mercenary group led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, led a mutiny in Moscow. The mercenary group neared the outskirts of Moscow before halting their advance and turning around. 

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Members of Wagner group sit atop of a tank in a street in the city of Rostov-on-Don, on June 24, 2023.

Stringer | AFP | Getty Images

Presumably because Prigozhin was popular with the Russian people, even more so than Putin in recent months, the Kremlin promised that Prigozhin would not face mutiny charges. Instead, Putin attempted to regain control by ordering Prigozhin to live in exile in Belarus. Prigozhin's mercenary group would also splinter off and no longer fight in Ukraine, after Prigozhin refused to sign contracts with the Russian government. 

This arrangement did not last long.  On July 3, an audio message by Prigozhin was shared via a Telegram channel in support of the Wagner group. In the message, Prigozhin supposedly asks for more support and suggests future action from Wagner, saying that "in the near future," people will see "our next victories at the front."

On August 23rd, Prigozhin's business plane "crashed" outside of Moscow. The cause of the crash was not immediately clear, but Prigozhin’s longstanding feud with the military and the armed uprising he led in June would give the Russian state ample motive for revenge as Putin struggles to consolidate his power. 

What is Yevgeny Prigozhin's Wagner Group?

Yevgeny Prigozhin was the leader of the notorious Wagner Group, a mercenary group that has played key roles in recent Russian military operations. The mercenary groups, also known as private military companies (PMCs) can be hired by governments for various purposes. 


Prigozhin formed the mercenary group back in 2014, which played a key role in the conflicts in Crimea and eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, as well as several other conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, including the Syrian Civil War. While the PMC has undoubtedly had its hand in many conflicts over the last decade, the Prigozhin’s group has been especially important for Russian national defense. 

The Wagner group and Yevgeny Prigozhin reportedly received up to $2 billion illegally last year from the Russian government for their assistance in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

What Led to the Wagner Group's Uprising?

Long before the Wagner Group’s advance on Moscow, they have been in conflict with Russia’s Ministry of Defense. Prigozhin claimed that Russian military leaders were fumbling key strategic opportunities in their aggression against Ukraine. Additionally, Prigozhin claims that Sergei Shoigu, Russian Minister of Defense, has withheld resources from the Wagner group such as ammunition and other military elements.


Early in June, Shoigu announced that PMCs would be required to sign contracts with the military by July 1 as they move forward into the summer and the Ukrainian military’s widespread counteroffensive. This is speculated to be the trigger for Prigozhin marching on Moscow. The co-founder and chairman of the Silverado Policy Accelerator think tank, Dmitri Aplerovitch, said, “Prigozhin said that he would not obey it, and clearly as the clock was ticking toward July 1, he was desperate to try to think of ways to stop that order.”


Other Russia experts saw the advance on Moscow as a show of force to pressure Shoigu into providing more resources to Wagner forces as they are deployed across the Ukrainian front. 

What Does this Mean for Ukraine?

The Wagner Group has consistently played key offensive roles in the Ukrainian conflict, both in the 2014 conflicts and especially in Russia’s recent invasion that began in February 2022. It isn't entirely clear what long-term effects the mutiny and Priogzhin's death will have for Ukraine and Putin's hold on power. 

For now, some Wagner troops have remained at their encampments in Belarus. However, on July 16, a Ukrainian official stated that, according to their intelligence, only a "few hundred" Wagner troops had actually relocated to Belarus, leaving their whereabouts and the overall standing of Wagner unclear. 

Ultimately, the conflict in Ukraine will continue for now. One thing is clear however, this war is beginning to take a deep toll on Russian officials, and especially, on Putin.

What Has Putin Done?

Putin had remained mostly silent in the early days of the coup, as well as the immediate aftermath once Prigozhin had retreated. However, the Kremlin recently announced that President Putin held a 3-hour-long meeting with Progzhin only 5 days after the mutiny against Moscow. Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said, “further emplotment options,” for the Prigozhin’s Wagner Group were discussed. However, the results of that discussion are not known. 

The only details known about the meeting are that it was roughly 3-hours-long, and included 35 top military and political officials, including some of Prigozhin’s own men. Peskov said, “The only thing we can say is that the president gave his assessment of the company’s actions.”

Putin has not taken responsibility for the plane crash that killed Prigozhin.

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