Belarusian President Lukashenko is said to have persuaded Wagner CEO Prigozhin to abandon the attack on Moscow. What is known about the deal? What could happen to the Wagner Group? Initial answers and assessments.
What will happen to Prigozhin?
Evgeny Prigozhin was publicly branded a “traitor” by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and no more than 12 hours later, he was publicly pardoned in a de facto manner.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the Russian news agency Interfax, that the head of the Wagner mercenaries would be able to go to neighboring Belarus unimpeded. As a guarantee of safe withdraw, Prigozhin had “the president’s word.” However, the timetable for this is still unclear.
Previously, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko claimed to have persuaded Prigozhin in secret negotiations to abandon the advance of Wagner troops on Moscow. The Belarusian president is a close ally of Russia and economically as well as politically dependent on the large neighbor.
It is unclear whether Prigozhin made any other concessions besides immunity from prosecution. He had demanded the dismissal of Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov, among other things.
What will happen to the Wagner mercenaries?
According to Peskov, the fighters of the Wagner Group will also not be prosecuted. The mercenaries who did not participate in the uprising should receive an offer to serve in the Russian army.
Prigozhin ordered the Wagner units to return to their field camps in the occupied parts of Ukraine. There are various videos on social media that allegedly show the withdrawal from the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. Yesterday, they apparently took over the regional army headquarters there without a fight.
The possible integration of the Wagner units into the regular army had already been a subject of controversy before the uprising. Prigozhin publicly refused to sign the corresponding contracts until July 1, citing the military leadership’s inability to organize the troops’ command.
It is currently unclear whether the Wagner units are loyal to Prigozhin, are willing to join the army, or will lay down their weapons.
What will happen to Prigozhin’s companies?
In recent months, Prigozhin has made headlines primarily with his Wagner combat group. In reality, he is primarily a successful entrepreneur with previously close ties to the Kremlin.
He owns a catering company that supplies state institutions and is also said to control several media companies. Will he have to sell these companies now? Will he lose state contracts? Or will everything continue as before? These are open questions to which nothing has yet been publicly known.
Wagner fighters are also active not only in Ukraine but also in African countries such as Mali. In recent years, they have also been used in Syria. The Kremlin used these fighters for state purposes without having to send the army. Here, too, it is still unclear how things will continue.
What could be the consequences for the Ukraine war?
The Wagner mercenaries have participated in central battles in Ukraine, and Prigozhin repeatedly made headlines during the bitter fighting over Bachmut. According to his account, the Russian army is being misled, and he has repeatedly accused the military leadership of failing.
Recently, the Wagner units were said to have handed over their positions to the army so that no front lines should be weakened by the Wagner uprising. However, the pressure on the Russian army is high due to the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive. A fallback to Wagner fighters could ease the situation, but it is uncertain whether the army leadership has enough trust in the mercenaries.
A Second Attack from Belarus?
Prigozhin’s place of exile also allows for other speculation. British ex-General Richard Dannatt warned on Sky News of an attack by Wagner fighters from Belarus if many mercenaries were also to go there.
If Prigozhin were to amass an “effective fighting force” in Ukraine’s neighboring country, this would be a threat. Ukraine must monitor this flank and keep maneuverable units that can repel an attack from Belarus.
At the beginning of the Russian war of aggression, regular army units from Belarus had advanced on Kiev. The Ukrainian capital is not far from the border.