In the Thick of It

A blog on the U.S.-Russia relationship
A man with a Wagner PMC flag in Rostov-on-Don

A Hot Take on Drivers and Consequences of Prigozhin's Mutiny

June 25, 2023
Michael Kofman

The following is a selection of views on the impacts of the mutiny led by Yevgeny Prigozhin on June 23-24, shared by defense analyst Michael Kofman of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Kofman originally posted these and other takeaways via Twitter on June 25: 

  • It wasn’t a good showing for Russian state capacity or competence to respond to this kind of challenge.
  • Wagner was unexpectedly successful because they moved much faster and more deliberately than Russian forces, which seemed to lack orders, largely allowing Wagner units past unopposed.
  • But Prigozhin also miscalculated in part because this was an act of desperation. He had limited aims, and didn't appreciate the implications of his mutiny. I was puzzled by his theory of victory. A run on Moscow to do what? Get attention? Storm the Kremlin with a battalion?
  • Putin’s inaction & the slowness of the Russian response has become typical. I’ve often described him as a master procrastinator. The problem with Wagner was growing, it would reach a crisis point after the June 10 declaration by MoD [of the need for PMCs to sign contracts with MoD], Putin was likely warned and did nothing.
  • Prigozhin had declared that Wagner would not sign contracts with the Russian military, designed to neuter their autonomy. Theatrics ensued, but this standoff was clearly going to end poorly. The trajectory was a downward spiral from his May ultimatums leading into a crisis.
  • Wagner’s autonomy will end in the context of this [Russian-Ukrainian] war. In states like Mali the situation might be different.
  • After Bakhmut, the military was far less dependent on Wagner. Folks often conflated Bakhmut for the entire Russian winter offensive, and Wagner’s role as though it was omnipresent on the front. It was quite narrow, and Wagner was not used for defense in the south.
  • My conclusion is that Prigozhin ultimately lost. Wagner will also lose out. But Putin lost as well, and the regime was wounded.  

Michael Kofman is a senior fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.

A June 24, 2023 photo of a man posing with a PMC Wagner flag in Rostov-on-Don, taken by Fargoh, posted on Wikipedia on June 25, and  shared under a Creative Commons 1.0 - Public Domain license.