What the Peace Deal Means for Wagner Group

Its fighters face a choice as group surrenders military equipment to Russian Army
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 27, 2023 6:51 AM CDT
Updated Jun 27, 2023 6:54 AM CDT
What the Peace Deal Means for Wagner Group
Members of the Wagner Group military company sit atop a tank on a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Saturday, June 24, 2023, prior to leaving an area at the headquarters of the Southern Military District.   (AP Photo, File)

Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin is rumored to have arrived in Belarus—his new home after launching an armed rebellion that served as the greatest threat in decades to Russian President Vladimir Putin's leadership. Independent Belarusian military monitoring project Belaruski Hajun said a business jet used by Prigozhin landed near Minsk early Tuesday, per the AP. Russian authorities previously dropped criminal charges against the 62-year-old and his fighters, saying they had "stopped their actions directly aimed at committing a crime," per the New York Times. Prigozhin is to be exiled as part of a deal reportedly brokered by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko to prevent Prigozhin's forces marching on Moscow, while the Wagner Group is to hand over military equipment to the Russian Army.

"Prigozhin escaping prosecution poses a stark contrast to how the Kremlin has treated those staging anti-government protests in Russia," who've "received long prison terms," per the AP. In a speech on Monday, Putin praised the work of Wagner fighters and thanked those who abandoned the rebellion, thereby avoiding "major bloodshed," adding he would keep his promise to allow them to go to Belarus, return to their families, or sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense, per the Times. The Institute for the Study of War said Putin will be aiming to retain the fighters, who've been key to Russian efforts in Ukraine and are badly needed to face a Ukrainian counteroffensive, per the AP.

It's unclear if Prigozhin, who framed the rebellion as a protest against Russia's plans to absorb his private military company into the military, will be able to maintain control of fighters in Belarus. In terms of war, Putin has said all private armies fighting for Russia in Ukraine must come under the supervision of the Defense Ministry, per the Times. But at least for now, it appears Prigozhin will be unable to fulfill his goal of unseating Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. In what the Times calls "a sign of trust in the minister," Shoigu was shown meeting with Putin and other defense and security chiefs in state news broadcasts on Monday. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky celebrated a "happy day." He said Ukrainian forces had "advanced in all directions" amid the chaos. (More Wagner Group stories.)

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