The “Wagnerians” are scaring Ukraine and Europe with an offensive from Belarus, and Lukashenko boasts that he can barely hold them back. He lies. Hereʼs what happened to the PMС a month after the failed rebellion

Dmytro Rayevskyi
Kateryna Kobernyk
The “Wagnerians” are scaring Ukraine and Europe with an offensive from Belarus, and Lukashenko boasts that he can barely hold them back. He lies. Hereʼs what happened to the PMС a month after the failed rebellion

Getty Images / «Babel'»

A month ago, on June 24, 2023, the rebellion of Yevgeniy Prigozhin and his PMC "Wagner" failed in Russia. During this time, many rumors and versions appeared about the possible future of Putinʼs former "cook" and his mercenaries. Some of them have not yet come true. For example, the Russian authorities did not take Prigozhinʼs business in Russia and Africa, and the "Wagnerians" were not forced to sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense. Moreover, as expected, no one arrested Prigozhin himself, who freely flies between Russia and Belarus in his business jet. But a lot has changed for the PMC "Wagner". For example, mercenaries really left the territory of Ukraine and closed their bases in Russia, moving to Belarus. From there, together with the self-proclaimed president of Belarus Aleksander Lukashenko they threaten the world with an attack on Kyiv and Warsaw. In addition, Prigozhin disbanded the recruited prisoners and lost control over the "Internet-troll factory" — an unofficial media empire that was engaged in propaganda. "Babel" tells what the "Wagnerians" plan to do in the Central African Republic and Belarus and how former fighters of the PMC terrorize the population of Anapa and Krasnodar.

The mercenaries of the PMC "Wagner" plan to help President Touadéra become a dictator in the Central African Republic

On April 7, 2023, hundreds of "Wagnerians" flew out of the Central African Republic (CAR). After the rebellion of Yevgeniy Prigozhin, it looked like the loss of control of the PMC "Wagner" over the politics and economy of this country. But it quickly became clear that this was only a rotation. The PMC remains in the Central African Republic, and Prigozhin will continue to control part of the mining of gold, diamonds and wood, which are exported to Russia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The head of the Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov stated that only "several hundred instructors" who train the army will remain in the CAR, but this statement of his also turned out to be a lie. The number of mercenaries there has long exceeded at least two thousand. A civil war is ongoing in the CAR, rebels from the "Peopleʼs Front for the Revival of the Central African Republic" are fighting against the current government. They tried several times to capture the capital, the city of Bangui. It was for the fight against the rebels that President Fausteu-Archange Touadéra hired the PMC "Wagner" back in 2018. Since that time, not a single military operation of the CAR army does without their participation.

On July 30, Touadéra will again need the "Wagnerians". On this day, a referendum will be held in the country, at which the president will try to "erase" all previous presidential terms, like Putin. According to the constitution, the president of the CAR can be in office for no more than two terms, Touadéra is currently serving his second term. Therefore, he initiated constitutional reform. Its essence is to increase the presidential term from five to seven years and turn the bicameral parliament into a unicameral one. And after that, run for a third term, as for the first.

CAR President Fausteu-Archang Touadéra greets the crowd during a military parade to mark the 64th anniversary of the independence of the Central African Republic, Bangui, on December 1, 2022.

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Rebels from the "Peopleʼs Front" may try to disrupt the referendum and raise all those dissatisfied with Touadéraʼs policies to fight against the constitutional coup. The "Wagner" mercenaries will likely provide security in all government-controlled cities.

However, Touadéraʼs adviser Fidel Gaundjik said that the main contract for military aid was signed with the Russian government, not with the PMC "Wagner", which acts as a subcontractor. Therefore, the "Wagnerians" may eventually be replaced by other Russian military personnel.

It is not known which of the PMC "Wagner" officers is currently in charge of operations in the CAR and other African countries. On July 20, 2023, Great Britain imposed sanctions against Konstantin Pikalov, Vitaliy Perfiliev, and Igor Maslov. Pikalov — nicknamed "Mazai" — was in charge of the central African headquarters of the PMC, but in March 2023 he unexpectedly found himself in Crimea, where he was supposed to form a new PMC "Convoy".

Perfiliev remained an adviser to the President of Touadéra until July 2023. And Maslov managed the operations of the PMC "Wagner" in Mali. It is difficult to say whether they will remain in their "positions" further.

"Wagnerians" really moved to Belarus, where they train the army, but there are still not enough of them for the offensive

Part of the "Wagnerians" went to Belarus by agreement with Aleksander Lukashenko. On July 19, Yevgeniy Prigozhin published an address to his mercenaries in which, among other things, he promised to make "the second army of the world" out of Belarusian troops.

Now there are about five thousand of them, but there are more and more — in the middle of July there were two thousand. Ten convoys of trucks and SUVs have already passed through the border. There is no military equipment in the columns, it was handed over to the Russian army before July 13.

A Belarusian soldier walks through the newly built camp of the PMC "Wagner" on July 7, 2023, near the village of Tsel, Osypovytskyi district, Belarus.

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Telegram channels of mercenaries write that in total there will be about 10 thousand "Wagnerians" in Belarus. Some of them actually train the Belarusian military at the training ground in Soligorsk, which is 135 km south of Minsk. The equipment of the PMC "Wagner" was also spotted in a camp near Osypovychi. The spokesman of the State Border Service (SBS) of Ukraine Andriy Demchenko says that such a number of mercenaries cannot be a threat to Ukrainian defense, but they [SBS] continue to monitor the situation.

The Commander of the Joint Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Lieutenant General Serhiy Nayev believes that the task of the PMC "Wagner" in Belarus is to intimidate Ukrainians with a possible offensive, but the Defense Forces are ready for this. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) also states that even 10 000 mercenaries are not enough for an offensive, so all the rumors about him are a Russian information operation to spread panic.

Meanwhile, Lukashenko and Putin began to terrorize Europe with mercenaries. On July 23, they met in St. Petersburg, where Lukashenko informed that the "Wagnerians" are asking to go to the West, for an excursion to Warsaw and Rzeszów. Before that, on July 20, mercenaries and the Belarusian military began demonstration training at the "Brest" training ground near the Polish border. In response, the Ministry of Defense of Poland transferred part of its troops from the western regions to the eastern border.

Vladimir Putin and Aleksander Lukashenko meet with St. Petersburg Governor Oleksandr Beglov (left), during a visit to Kronstadt, near St. Petersburg, on July 23, 2023.

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Prigozhin has already managed to legalize himself in Belarus. On July 19, the company "Concord Management and Consulting" appeared in the register of legal entities, a subsidiary of Prigozhinʼs Russian company of the same name. It is registered in the village of Tsel near Osypovychi, where the main camp of mercenaries is located. A day before the companyʼs registration, Prigozhinʼs business jet left for Belarus.

The PMC "Wagner" began to allowing mercenary-prisoners to go home, but their number is not known

On July 19th, the Russian edition "Vazhnye istorii" ["Important stories"] published the news that three large hotels in Anapa were occupied by former mercenaries recruited from prisons by the PMC "Wagner". There are about four hundred of them there. They are waiting for the end of the contract and the pardon decree.

Prigozhinʼs telegram channels write that "project K" — as the recruitment of prisoners to the front was called — is closed. And all mercenaries who want to go home can do so. They were given a vacation of up to 45 days, and then everyone who wants to can return to the PMC and go to Belarus or Africa under a new contract. Former prisoners also occupied many hotels in Krasnodar. Local groups on social media complain that they are abusing alcohol, fighting and rioting.

It is not completely clear how many prisoners there were in the PMC "Wagner" and how many of them remained there. On July 20th, one of the PMC commanders — nicknamed "Marx" — stated that there were 78 000 "Wagnerians" in total "on the Ukrainian mission". 49 000 of them are former prisoners. At the end of May, the PMC lost 22 000 mercenaries killed and another 40 000 wounded.

Back in December 2022, Pentagon representative John Kirby informed that, according to their data, up to 90% of all losses of the PMC "Wagner" are former prisoners who were sent to the most dangerous areas of the front.

Prigozhin lost support among Russians

In May 2023, according to some polls, Yevgeniy Prigozhin was the second politician in Russia after Vladimir Putin. There are no objective sociological studies in the Russian Federation, so all figures are conditional. But when the independent sociological group Russian Field conducted a phone survey, it turned out that 30% of respondents were ready to vote for Putin in the elections, and 2% of them — for Prigozhin.

On June 24, 2023, the head of the PMC "Wagner" Yevgeniy Prigozhin is leaving the headquarters of the Southern Military District in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.

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“This number seems ridiculous. Only 2%, but it is a lot. In an open poll, Prigozhin defeated any federal politician in general. If you measure the rating in closed lists, it would be a tremendous success," noted the head of Russian Field Daria Pavlova.

In addition, more than half of the respondents approved of his activities in one way or another. Prigozhin built his rating in just three months — as early as February 2023, 15% of Russians did not know who he is at all.

After the mutiny attempt, Prigozhin rapidly lost ground. At the end of June, Russian Field conducted a new poll, according to which only 29% of Russians approve of Prigozhinʼs actions in general, and only 20% support the conflict with the Ministry of Defense. Russians are not ready to vote for him in any way.

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