War Lord Exiled After Taking on Putin

War Lord Exiled After Taking on Putin

(NewsReady.com) – In the aftermath of late June’s bizarre rebellion against Russia’s military chiefs, the head of the Wagner Group private military company has fled to Belarus. Yevgeny Prigozhin has made a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin that will spare him retribution after his men marched on Moscow and shot down several Russian military aircraft. In return, he’s been exiled.

On June 23, Prigozhin, who commands an estimated 50,000 mercenaries and has often worked as a deniable proxy for the Russian military, accused Russian commanders of shelling his troops and launched a military convoy toward Moscow. Along the way, they shot down six Russian military helicopters and an airborne command plane — but, the next day, Prigozhin called off the rebellion and agreed to stand down his forces.

Now, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has confirmed that Prigozhin has been exiled to his country. Lukashenko is a close ally of Putin, and has recently agreed to let Russia station nuclear weapons in his country. Sending Prigozhin there gets him out of Ukraine — where he had been increasingly critical of Russia’s military command — and into a country where pro-Putin security forces can keep an eye on him.

As for Prigozhin’s men, on June 26, Putin announced that he’d given them a choice: They could either go home, follow their commander to Belarus, or enlist in the regular Russian military. It looks like Putin has defused a major crisis, but even if Prigozhin’s mutiny is over, it’s weakened the Russian leader. His army has performed poorly in Ukraine, and is now on the defensive despite starting the war with a huge advantage in numbers and firepower.

Prigozhin openly challenged the competence of the top military leaders. Despite launching an armed rebellion, the Wagner commander is still free. Many Russians will be left thinking their president made a deal because he didn’t have the strength to crush the rebellion by force. For an authoritarian leader, that’s a dangerous idea.

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