Many Questions Still Unanswered After Wagner’s Attempted ‘March On Moscow’

Some of the images published on social medias while Wagner marched towards Moscow, showing the PMC’s tanks on Russian soil and some of the aircraft shot down. (Photos from Twitter, authors unknown)

Let’s recap what we know about the skirmish that went down between Prigozhin and the Russian leadership.

The last couple of days were pretty chaotic for Russia, after Wagner’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin declared war on Russian military leadership, vowing to punish the military and restoring justice, threatening to kill anyone who tried to stop him. The attempted “march on Moscow” started after the PMC’s leader claimed that Russia shelled one of his camps, killing “2,000 fighters”. The number was later revised to just 30 soldiers.

Earlier, the PMC’s boss accused the Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, and the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, of “genocide of the Russian people” for sending thousands of citizens to die in a war started on false pretenses, without planning and without adequate gear. The Russian Defense Ministry denied Prigozhin’s statements, calling them “untrue and an informational provocation”.

In the meanwhile, the FSB launched a criminal investigation against Prigozhin for calling for an armed rebellion and security forces were put on maximum alert, with all the most important facilities, state authorities and transport infrastructure facilities put under enhanced protection, according to the Russians. Also, in an effort to slow down Wagner’s advance, the government shut down the M-4 highway out of Rostov-on-Don that heads towards Moscow blocking it with trucks and setting checkpoints.

In fact, Rostov-on-Don, about 50 miles from the Ukrainian border, was the first Russian city to be reached by the Wagner column. The PMC claimed to have taken the Southern Military District headquarters, the regional FSB office, the city administration building, the airfield and other military facilities. According to Prigozhin, all of them continued to work normally without interruption, even if the city was occupied.

In addition to social media posts showing Wagner’s soldiers and heavy armor in Rostov, videos appeared to show Prigozhin meeting with Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Yevkurov and GRU Lieutenant General Deputy Alekseev at the Southern Military District headquarter. The encounter seemed peaceful and uneventful, even if the atmosphere in the video was pretty tense.

Prigozhin continued to send messages on his channels, saying he wanted to meet with Shoigu and Gerasimov, with the latter reportedly leaving the city just before Wagner’s arrival. At the same time, he continued to accuse the Russian leadership, saying that ”Russian losses in Ukraine are 3-4 times higher than reported by the Russian High Command”, with “up to 1,000 casualties a day”.

While Rostov was taken without shots being fired, Wagner and Russian Army forces begun exchanging shots on the way to Voronezh, about 300 miles north of Roston and halfway to Moscow. The mercenaries eventually took control of the city and its military installations, but their advance resulted in a number of losses for the Russian PMC and regular forces.

It is being reported that Wagner shot down at least seven aircraft, including three Mi-8MTPR (a specialized Electronic Warfare variant of the Mi-8), a standard Mi-8, a Ka-52, a Mi-35, an An-26 and an Il-22 airborne command and communication aircraft. In fact, at least one Pantsir-S1 and a Strela-10 surface to air missile systems were sighted moving together with Wagner’s armored personnel carriers and tanks.

Multiple Ka-52 have been employed in the operations, trying to stop the PMC. One of them was used to attack an oil depot in Voronezh, possibly to avoid it being captured by Wagner and used to refuel its vehicles. Another one had a close call with a surface to air missile, avoiding it at the last second thanks to flares and possibly DIRCM defenses. In fact, it appears that the Ka-52s are among the primary users of the L370 Vitebsk DIRCM system.

While all of the above was happening, the Russian MoD was trying to reach out to Wagner fighters, trying to convince them they were being misled by Prigozhin and they should contact authorities so they could get to safety. Also, Putin addressed the nation, labeling the mercenaries as traitors and saying that they would face an inevitable and brutal punishment. It is worth mentioning that neither Putin nor Prigozhin mentioned the other one explicitly throughout all the events.

As Moscow prepared for the worst, with the evacuation of public buildings and the creation of fortified checkpoints, a much unexpected news came through: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko mediated between Russia and Wagner, resulting in the PMC aborting the march on Moscow and turning back. According to Prigozhin, the decision was taken because Russian blood would have been inevitably shed.

Later, Putin’s spokesperson divulged the terms of the deal: all criminal charges against Prigozhin had been dropped and he would also move to Belarus, Wagner fighters involved in insurrection will not be prosecuted, while the ones not involved would be able to join the regular army. No word on any changes in the Russian military leadership, even if unconfirmed sources reported that Shoigu might have been put under house arrest by the FSB, although he was seen attending a meeting in civilian clothes instead of his usual uniform.

Still, it still seems unlikely that Putin will let Prigozhin get away completely unpunished with what he did. In fact, Prigozhin might share the same opinions as he disappeared for hours after the news about the deal, until some sources reported that he was sighted in Minsk. Also, according to TASS, the investigation against him has not been closed, even if the Cremlin said all charges would be dropped.

Adding to the confusion, it appears that Putin was alerted by his intelligence services that Prigozhin might have been planning something, but apparently decided to not act against him or ignored the alert. The US intelligence community also became aware of a plan of the PMC being in motion, closely observing the situation.

Even more doubts emerged when Prigozhin reappeared and said the among the first reasons for the march on Moscow there was the MoD decision of ordering all PMC troops to join the regular army. Also, he added that the original plan was to take his troops and vehicles to Rostov and turn them over to the MoD, regretting being forced to attack Russian forces in response to their strikes against the PMC.

Another of Prigozhin claims was that all military units encountered by his troops supported the PMC and did not oppose resistance, with the Russian military leadership being highly unpopular among the regular forces. As you can see, there are still lots of questions unanswered and it is possible that last week’s events will have consequences sooner than later.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.