Putin attempts positive spin on Prigozhin; FSB closes criminal case against him; Wagner recruitment centres reopen

29 June 2023


This week's main stories:

  • Putin attempts positive spin of Prigozhin march
  • The FSB finally closes the criminal case against Prigozhin
  • Wagner recruitment centres reopen
Putin attempts positive spin on Prigozhin march

The main story of the week was, of course, the march of Russian Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner and its owner, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, across Russia — which I covered in a special edition of Threatologist Eurasia. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statements have condemned Wagner’s actions and attempted to put a positive spin on events, including the security service response to them.


During Prigozhin’s march, Putin issued a televised address in which he — without mentioning Prigozhin’s name — condemned the “criminal adventure” and “armed mutiny.” Putin characterised it as “a knife in the back of our country and our people” akin to the revolutionary events of 1917 [9].


On 26 June, Putin made a second televised address in which he condemned the “leaders of this mutiny” as having “betrayed their country and their people.” He claimed the actions of the the military and security services had “saved Russia from tragic and devastating consequences,” implying that they had performed their tasks well. He also said that Wagner soldiers now faced a choice: signing a contract with the Defence Ministry, returning home, or travelling to Belarus. Putin promised to honour the deal that brought an end to the conflict and allow Prigozhin and his supporters to move to the country [10]. News outlet Verstka claimed that a new base capable of hosting 8,000 Wagner fighters is under construction in Asipovichy, Mahiliow Voblasts [14].


On 27 June, Putin also addressed security service personnel at a ceremony in Moscow. He reiterated his praise for their response, insisting they had “defended the constitutional order, as well as the life, security and freedom of our citizens, steering our Motherland clear from upheavals and de facto stopping a civil war in its tracks.” Putin confirmed that military personnel had lost their lives in the uprising [11].


Putin has therefore opted to portray the weekend’s events as signs of a system working as it should to respond to threats and uncertainty, and a society “united” in its purpose. His second statement insisted that “society and the executive and legislative branches of government at all levels displayed high consolidation.” There is also a clear attempt to differentiate between the ‘good’ Wagner fighters — those “Russian patriots, loyal to their people and their state” — and their ‘bad’ leaders. This allows for their quasi-peaceful absorption back into the system, rather than mandating their forced suppression.


Prigozhin, meanwhile, portrayed the march as an effort to prevent Wagner’s absorption into the regular army and the “total loss of combat effectiveness” that would ensue. He insisted it was “a show of protest, not [an attempt] to overthrow the government” [13]. Jeremy Morris characterised events “as an appeal to authority where the boss has checked out” [15]. Prigozhin, to all intents and purposes, agrees with this assessment.

The FSB finally closes the criminal case against Prigozhin

In the midst of Prigozhin’s march, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) opened a criminal case against him under Article 279 of the Russian Criminal Code [3]. It finally closed it on 27 June, resolving confusion over its status in a rather strange manner.


Following the ‘resolution’ of events, media reports and official statements on whether or not the criminal case remained open were contradictory. On 27 June, the FSB’s press service announced that the case had been closed after it was “established, that on the 24 June its participants ceased the actions that were directly aimed at committing a crime” [4].


From a legal perspective, there are a couple of oddities in this position — although the Russian state is hardly consistent or logical in its application of the law. First, as Russian security expert Andrey Soldatov noted in a podcast for Meduza, the original FSB statement called on the PMCs own members to take steps to detain Prigozhin [5]. That is, it called on the participants of a supposedly criminal endeavour to take action against one of its organisers — rather than, you know, commanding actual law enforcement organs to do the job. Second, the statement closing the case framed events as leading towards a crime, rather than a crime in and of itself. That is to say, the official FSB position is now that no crime was committed; seizing military bases, killing Russian military personnel, and taking the country — in Putin’s own characterisation — to the brink of “civil war” is merely some kind of pre-criminal activity. All is fine, nothing to see here… 


As Soldatov notes, this means that there are no legal obstacles to Prigozhin returning to Russia. The practical implications of that, however, are rather limited, since legal and non-legal obstacles can be erected as necessary.


The FSB and local governors also announced on 26 June that the Counterterrorism Operation imposed on Moscow, Moscow Oblast, and Voronezh Oblast had been lifted [7].

Wagner recruitment centres reopen

Wagner’s recruitment centres across Russia swiftly resumed their operations, as if nothing had happened.


Kavkaz Realii, citing other media sources, reported that Wagner’s centres in Rostov-on-the-Don and other cities continued to recruit people for Russia’s war in Ukraine [6]. Kommersant similarly reported that Wagner’s large centre in St Petersburg was functioning as usual, having earlier been searched by the security services [12].


One thing that events of the last week should either have taught you or confirmed for you: modern Russia is a very strange place.


However, Pavel Krasheninnikov, chairman of the State Duma Committee for Legislation and State Building, announced that recent legislative changes mean that only the Defence Ministry, and not PMCs, can recruit convicts [8]. The Defence Ministry in reality took over Wagner’s prison recruitment system a long time ago (see 16 February edition of Threatologist Eurasia).

Other stories of interest
  • A Belarusian court has sentenced businessman Vadim Propokiev to 25 years in absentia on terrorism charges. Prokopiev opposes the regime of Aleksandr Lukashenka and supported protests in 2020 [1].
  • Azerbaijan’s State Security Service has arrested 13 citizens on suspicion of involvement with Syrian insurgent groups [2].
Source list

1. Nastoyashcheye Vremya. 21 June 2023. В Беларуси бывшего ресторатора Вадима Прокопьева заочно приговорили к 25 годам колонии по делу о "терроризме”. https://www.currenttime.tv/a/prigovor-prokopievu/32468971.html

2. Caucasian Knot. 22 June 2023. 13 граждан Азербайджана арестованы за участие в террористической организации. https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/389880.

3. Federal Security Service. 24 June 2023. Заявлениях и действиях Е.Пригожина. http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10439752%40fsbMessage.html.

4. Federal Security Service. 27 June 2023. Прекращено уголовное дело по факту вооруженного мятежа. http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10439759%40fsbMessage.html

5. Meduza podcast Что случилось? 25 June 2023. Как российские силовики показали себя во время мятежа Пригожина? И возможен ли новый военный переворот против Путина?. https://meduza.io/episodes/2023/06/25/kak-rossiyskie-siloviki-pokazali-sebya-vo-vremya-myatezha-prigozhina-i-vozmozhen-li-novyy-voennyy-perevorot-protiv-putina.

6. Kavkaz Realii. 26 June 2023. Вербовочный центр ЧВК "Вагнер" в Ростове-на-Дону продолжает набор наемников. https://www.kavkazr.com/a/verbovochnyy-tsentr-chvk-vagner-v-rostove-na-donu-prodolzhaet-nabor-naemnikov/32476765.html.

7. Nastoyashcheye Vremya. 26 June 2023. В Москве, Московской и Воронежской областях отменили режим контртеррористической операции. https://www.currenttime.tv/a/rezhim-kto-otmenen/32475845.html.

8. Interfax. 26 June 2023. В Думе заявили, что ЧВК больше не смогут вербовать уголовников. https://www.interfax.ru/russia/909000.

9. Kommersant. 24 June 2023. Обращение Путина к россиянам в связи с действиями Пригожина и ЧВК «Вагнер». Полный текст, видео. https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/6067670.

10. President of Russia. 26 June 2023. Address to citizens of Russia. http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/71528.

11. President of Russia. 27 June 2023. Выступление перед подразделениями Минобороны, Росгвардии, ФСБ, МВД, ФСО, обеспечившими порядок и законность во время мятежа. Putin addresses troops in Kremlin ceremony. http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/71533.

12. Kommersant. 26 June 2023. «ЧВК Вагнер Центр» в Санкт-Петербурге продолжит работу. https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/6068699.

13. Novaya Gazeta. 26 June 2023. ‘We did not want to spill Russian blood’: Prigozhin makes statement on Wagner Group’s mutiny attempt. https://novayagazeta.eu/articles/2023/06/26/we-did-not-want-to-spill-russian-blood-prigozhin-makes-statement-on-wagner-groups-mutiny-attempt-en.

14. Verstka. 26 June 2023. В Беларуси начали строить лагеря для размещения бойцов ЧВК «Вагнер». https://verstka.media/v-belarusi-stroyat-lagerya-dlya-vagnera.

15. Open Democracy Russia. 26 June 2023. Prigozhin has captivated the West – but pundits have no idea what is going on. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/wagner-prigozhin-russia-putin-moscow/.

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