The rebellion by Wagner mercenaries lasted little more than than 24 hours but it could still have far reaching consequences for Russia and its war in Ukraine.
The Russian warlord who led a brief rebellion over the weekend owes his success to Vladimir Putin.
Born into a poor family, Yevgeny Prigozhin’s rise to the top of Russian politics is nothing short of incredible. After leaving prison, he went from being a hot dog seller in St Petersburg to a top restaurateur in Moscow. Eventually he worked as a caterer for the Kremlin. A job that earned him the nickname ‘Putin’s chef’.
But Prigozhin’s business interests didn’t end there, because after Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine it became clear that he was also the man behind the infamous Wagner Group – a private army made up of tens of thousands of hardened fighters.
Wagner has played a crucial role in the war, but in recent months Prigozhin has been publicly critical of Russia’s defence minister and the top military commanders. On Friday Prigozhin’s anger appears to have boiled over.
As is customary for Prigozhin, his call for mutiny was broadcast on the messaging app Telegram.
He claimed it was in response to a Russian airstrike on a Wagner training base.
It is also thought that he was infuriated by a recent decree ordering all “volunteer” militias – like Wagner – to sign contracts with the Russian defence ministry. A move which would have ended the group’s military autonomy in Ukraine and shut off an important source of Progozhin’s own income.
Tens of thousands of his mercenaries crossed from Ukraine into Russia and occupied the southern city of Rostov-on-Don with little resistance.
The Kremlin branded Prigozhin a terrorist and, without naming the Wagner leader, President Putin called it “treason”.
Prigozhin responded directly, saying it was a “march for justice.” But crucially he stopped short of criticising Putin and not long after it began the rebellion was over.
Prigozhin called it off after reportedly doing a deal with the Kremlin that would exile him to Belarus and spare his Wagner fighters prosecution.
In his latest Telegram message, which was published on Monday, Prigozhin claimed he didn’t want to oust Putin. He said he only wanted to “hold to account” the military leaders he blamed for “mistakes” in the Ukraine war.
But his decision to lead a rebellion will continue to have consequences for the Russian president and his war in Ukraine.
This episode was written and mixed by Rebecca Moore with additional reporting by Nina Kuryata and additional production by Imy Harper.