The background of the short-lived coup attempt by the Russian private military group “Wagner” is still being debated. It is important to remember that “Wagner” is a private military company similar to “Blackwater,” which gained prominence during the US occupation of Iraq and faced numerous investigations. Four mercenaries working for Wagner in Iraq were tried and sentenced to prison. However, former US President Donald Trump pardoned these four individuals in the final month of his term.
Eric Prince, the founder of “Blackwater” and a former Navy officer, is the brother of Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos. “Blackwater” was a private military security company contracted with the Pentagon and operated in multiple countries. By establishing “Wagner,” the Russians were showing that they were not lagging behind the Americans in the field of “learning from the enemy.”
The question arises: how could Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner, who owes his existence to the military bureaucracy and even more so to the Kremlin, attempt a coup? According to allegations, the US intelligence was aware of Prigozhin’s coup attempt. The anti-Russian hawks in the US were hopeful about the uprising, believing that it indicated a deep rift among the Russian ruling elites and signaled the beginning of the end for the “Kremlin regime.” The swift end of the coup within 48 hours was a great disappointment for the hawks, of course.
Is it conceivable that American intelligence had information that Russian military intelligence was unaware of, or at least pretended to be unaware of? “Wagner” and the official Russian military are fighting side by side in Ukraine. It was known that there were disputes between “Wagner” and the Ministry of Defense. There have been numerous claims that these disputes occurred not only in Ukraine but also in other countries where “Wagner” operates, including Syria. Therefore, there is no doubt that Wagner is under the scrutiny of the Russian General Staff and the Ministry of Defense.
Experts do not overlook the possibility that the unexpected prolongation of the Ukraine War, initially launched as a “special military operation,” could create a rift within the military bureaucracy. It is evident that the transformation of the expected “special military operation” into a comprehensive war has caused serious headaches in the Kremlin Palace within a few days.
Some experts argue that the Russian General Staff and Ministry of Defense extended a rope to Prigozhin for him to hang himself. According to these experts, the “troublemaker” Prigozhin was deliberately lured in. It was even suggested that Wagner’s mercenaries were allowed to enter Russian territory from Ukraine and make advances and claim fake victories on purpose.
Entering Russian territory from an area like Ukraine, where the “fog of war” is dense, is considered equivalent to walking into a trap for Wagner. Wagner, completely dependent on the Russian army for weapons, ammunition, and logistical support, would undoubtedly lose in the face of a real military response. It is said that Prigozhin stepped back as soon as he realized he had walked into a trap.
Another interpretation is that Wagner soldiers were not aware of Prigozhin’s intentions. According to this view, Wagner units were not aware that they were part of an uprising. On the contrary, they believed their actions were a military maneuver directed towards Ukraine. Once they realized they had been deceived, continuing the rebellion became impossible for Prigozhin.
Another claim is that General Sergey Surovikin, who commanded Russian forces in Ukraine for a period of time, had prior knowledge of the coup attempt. In fact, Surovikin was one of the secret “VIP” members of Wagner. It is said that although Surovikin, also known as “General Armageddon,” called for an end to the uprising, he was detained and even arrested. Surovikin was removed from his command position in January 2023, and General Valery Gerasimov took over that role. All of this indicated serious disagreements within the top command structure regarding the course of the “Ukraine War.”
There are still many unanswered questions regarding Wagner’s coup attempt. There are many gaps that need to be filled, including the role of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in stopping the uprising. Prigozhin’s retreat to Belarus does not mean that the case is ultimately closed. There will be many further developments regarding the aftershocks of the uprising.