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PMC Wagner troops in Rostov-on-Don / Source: Telegram
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By JOSÉ MACHADO MOITA NETO*

The outcome of events involving the head of the Wagner group is still unclear

Commenting on news of great international relevance is a daily risk for journalists who know that formulating an opinion about an uncertain scenario risks being contradicted in less than 12 hours. So my review may suffer from premature aging before you have time to read it. To get away from traditional sources of information, I turned to BELTA, which is the Belarusian government news agency and mouthpiece. The entire narrative construction of Alexander Lukashenko's commitment to the negotiations is exaggerated, showing a unique role during the crisis. In fact, he was chosen by Vladimir Putin to offer an honorable exit to the head of the Wagner group, who accepted it; because he had no alternative.

Reading the Belarus news agency (https://www.belta.by/) provides further clues about the political negotiation that led to the suspension of the movement. One of the news briefs reads: “The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, helped to successfully overcome the most acute phase of the situation in Russia, associated with the attempted military rebellion by the head of PMC Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin”. The immediate opening of criminal proceedings by the Federal Security Service of Russia against the head of the Wagner group made him an easy target for the military, even his followers were called upon to no longer follow his command. Furthermore, according to BELTA, “The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation classified the situation with Yevgeny Prigozhin as an armed rebellion”. This ended Yevgeny Prigozhin's options, forcing him to accept any exit offered in the negotiation.

The rebels' objective was to pressure Vladimir Putin to put them back in a scenario of relevant protagonism in Ukraine, but for that they needed to disqualify the current military commanders. The incidents did not mark Putin's break with the head of the Wagner group, but they did make it clear that his quarrel with the military chiefs did not find any support in Putin. The high command's decision to weaken the role of the Wagner group in Ukraine was endorsed by Vladimir Putin. The need to convey an image of a clean war in Ukraine involved the peaceful or non-peaceful purge of the Wagner group. The obligation of the members to sign a contract with the Russian government, the reduction of logistical support to the group and, finally, “friendly fire” accidents provoked the group's desperate strategy.

What they did never came to threaten the security or government of the Russian state, as the Western media first read. It was a bold political move that didn't work. Vladimir Putin's declaration of classifying the act as treason was the password for them to understand that the head of the Wagner group had crossed all limits. It was the end of bravado. The only possible solution was to completely and quickly leave the scene before the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff of the Armed Forces put an end to that political “joke”. In the midst of a war, one cannot gloat over the entities responsible for conducting it, even those who enjoy the friendship of the chief of the armed forces.

The outcome of events involving the head of the Wagner group is still unclear and the reading I do is that he was placed in a freezer in Belarus to keep him away from the Ukrainian War. Indeed, his situation resembles that of house arrest, a sort of prisoner in the iron mask; as it has explosive potential for or against Vladimir Putin. Vladimir Putin's idea is to leave it latent in a monitored environment to reactivate it when necessary. He has many escape alternatives, none for the NATO countries, but in all scenarios he could end up having the same fate as other disaffections of the Russian government.

*José Machado Moita Neto is a retired professor at the Federal University of Piauí (UFPI) and a researcher at UFDPar.

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