Initially fighting as “allies,” the Wagner Group has now made a power play against the Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) and the Kremlin. Having had enough of battlefield disagreements and grievances, Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Private Military Contractors (PMC) are now fighting on Russian soil, calling the actions of the MOD a ‘betrayal.’

Reciprocating Prigozhin’s rhetoric, the Federal Security Services (FSB) opened a criminal investigation on the former and his mercenaries. Putin has labeled Wagner’s actions as a ‘mutiny,’ and his generals and close warlords such as Ramzan Kadyrov, Shoigu, Suvorokin, and Gerasimov have condemned the PMC’s coup.

A Wagner Group contractor fires a machine gun.

The Brewing Conflict Started in 2022

During the initial stage of the full-fledged invasion, Russia faced stiff resistance and significant combat losses in Hostomel, the Kyiv suburbs, and Mariupol. Battlefield setbacks led to various reconstructions of forces and low-level finger-pointing. The Kremlin and MOD could keep the conflicts at a minimum due to Russia scoring victories in the Donbas region, such as Severodonetsk—though they came at a pyrrhic cost.

Towards the summer of 2022, Ukraine’s Armed Forces (ZSU) was equipped with HIMARS and created drones capable of reaching long distances. The innovations and resupply allowed the ZSU to strike the “unsinkable” Crimea with drones multiple times throughout the summer, which sent shockwaves into Russian society.

HIMARS played a significant role in destroying Russian logistics, allowing for crucial ZSU victories in Kharkiv and Kherson, which led to infighting among Russian generals and surprisingly influential mini-bloggers. When Ukraine partially destroyed the Kerch Bridge on Vladimir Putin’s birthday, it was a damning psychological and strategic blow that started to collapse Putin’s strongman aura, allowing for Prigozhin to start making his presence known to Russian society.

Wagner and the Ministry of Defense Never Got Along

Wagner’s popularity has always been known in the shadows as they conducted Russia’s “dirty work” in Syria and several African nations with military juntas. The group’s popularity would skyrocket as they made gains in capturing Soledar and Bakhmut in 2023—the only two victories Russia has achieved since the late spring of 2022.

Wagner would state they suffered significant casualties in both battles and didn’t receive logistical support from the Russian MOD, despite several conventional military units supporting their offensives. Prigozhin’s slights towards the MOD, particularly at Defense Minister Shoigu and the overall commander of Russian Forces, Gerasimov, led to months of empty hostile rhetoric towards each other.