Over the weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin faced down what was allegedly the greatest threat to his power since taking office in 2000 when oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin threatened to lead his disgruntled mercenaries, the Wagner Group, into armed revolt against Moscow. Despite initially sounding like something lifted from the pages of a James Patterson thriller, the conflict was ultimately short-lived. Within less than 24 hours, Prigozhin and his men turned back from marching on the Russian capital, and Putin dropped charges of treason.

The peace deal between the two parties was reportedly brokered by Belarus, where Prigozhin has since been taken into exile. According to Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko: “The most dangerous thing, as I saw it, was not the situation itself, but its possible ramifications.” Lukashenko went on to describe his negotiations with Prigozhin in surprising detail.

“The turmoil was thus prevented,” he concluded. “Dangerous events that might have taken place were reversed.”

The narrowly averted crisis garnered widespread attention in America with U.S. officials speculating that the scare may have damaged Putin or signaled a turning point in his war on Ukraine. But the details are still elusive. What exactly was the “Wagner Group Insurrection”? And what does it all mean? Here, we summarize five need-to-know facts.

1. Who is Prigozhin—“Putin’s Chef”?

Yevgeny Prigozhin, 62, is a former Putin associate, although not for the reason some might suspect. After serving nine years in prison as a young man, Prigozhin opened a chain of hot dog stands in St. Petersburg—both his and Putin’s hometown—which eventually grew into a series of high-end restaurants. One of those restaurants, New Island, was commonly frequented by Putin, who eventually contracted Prigozhin to cater to the Kremlin. In this role, he earned the moniker “Putin’s Chef.” The two became so close, the restaurant owner reportedly referred to Russia’s president as “Papa.”

2. What is the “Wagner Group”?

From criminal to hotdog vendor to Kremlin chef, Prigozhin’s career took a decidedly weird turn when he launched the intimidating Wagner Group in 2014. A fearsome band of “undesirables,”—often convicts—the group first rose to prominence in the 2014 Donbas War. Thereafter, it developed into what Prigozhin called “probably the most experienced army in the world today.” Participating extensively in the Russo-Ukrainian War, the group—now 50,000 strong—and its ruthless leader earned a reputation for showing up at the “bloodiest of battles.”

3. Why did Prigozhin turn on Moscow?

In the months leading up to last week’s crisis, the mercenary chief repeatedly clashed with top Moscow officials. He and others accused Russian leadership of poor military strategy. When Moscow demanded that all private forces sign contracts with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Prigozhin flatly refused.

Days later, when the malcontent commander announced his “march of justice,” he accused Russia of attacking his men.

“A missile attack was carried out on a PMC (private military company) Wagner base,” he said. “There are many casualties. According to the information of the fighters who are witnesses, the attack was carried out from a rear direction—that is, it was carried out by soldiers of the Russian Ministry of Defense.”

“The evil that the military leadership of the country brings forward must be stopped,” the irate commander continued. “They have forgotten the word justice, and we will return it.”

According to at least one U.S. official, however, allegations of a Russian-led attack on the Wagner army were probably a “false pretext,” “basically a hoax.” “Prigozhin had been plotting ways to reverse his fortunes in the face of waning power and came up with a plan to claim his forces had been bombed, which he would then use to justify actions against Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russian defense leaders, the senior official said.”

4. Why Belarus?

Many may wonder why Belarus stepped in to work out a deal seemingly favorable to Putin. Notably, the former Soviet Union state—landlocked between Russia, Ukraine, and three NATO nations (Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland)—has served an important role in Russia’s war efforts since day one. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, they launched their attack through Belarus, which is geographically closer to Kviv than Moscow is.

But Russia’s relationship with Belarusian President Lukashenko predates the Russo-Ukrainian War. In 2020, when Lukashenko claimed victory with 80% of the vote in a hotly disputed presidential election, Putin stepped in, offering military aid to help squash ensuing political protests. Lukashenko went on to arrest and torture his political opponents, journalists, and protestors. In return, when it came time to launch the war on Ukraine, Putin “called in the favor.”

5. So, how does this impact Ukraine?

Putin himself has admitted that Prigozhin’s revolt “played into the hands of” Ukraine and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The challenge to Putin’s power, coupled with a Ukrainian counteroffensive, proved to be a “timely morale booster for Ukrainian troops.”

“Soldiers at the front lines are positive about it,” claimed a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Eastern Group of Forces. “Any chaos and disorder on the enemy’s side benefits us.”

“Putin’s attempt to revive the USSR has finally failed,” asserted Zelensky’s chief of staff. “After this, more people in the world are more sure about Ukrainian victory.”

However, others have cautioned that a “wounded” Putin may become increasingly hostile.

“The damage inflicted by this episode to Putin’s public image as the capable strongman who restored order and pride to Russia after the chaos in the 1990s… is considerable,” observed the “National Review,” “as is the sheer humiliation…. Under the circumstances, it will not be surprising if Putin takes steps to secure his position at the top (watch for some unexplained absences) and to further tighten his control over the country as a whole…. From a U.S. perspective, therefore, the situation is, if anything, more dangerous than it was before….”

Even as we piece together the details of this wild insurrection that never was, Putin looks weaker than ever before—which very well may mean that is more dangerous than before, too.

Jakob Fay is a staff writer for the Convention of States Project.

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