Wagner coup: Who is the Wagner Group? Where is Rostov and why has the Wagner Group launched a coup against Russia President Putin?


Vladimir Putin has addressed the Russian people after conflict appeared to break out with the Wagner Group, a private military company headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin. Here's everything we know.

An armed rebellion led by the Wagner mercenary group marks “the most significant challenge to the Russian state” in recent times, according to UK defence officials.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the actions of the private military company a “betrayal”, after its chief Yevgeny Prigozhin vowed to topple Moscow’s military leadership.

But just who is the Wagner Group and why have they launched a coup against Mr Putin?


Who is the Wagner Group?

The Wagner Group – officially called PMC Wagner – was founded in 2014.

The body, which has been labelled in some quarters as a mercenary group and as a proxy force by US officials, is led by head Yevgeny Prigozhin.

At the time of its formation, the Wagner Group was backing pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.

According to a BBC investigation, former Russian army officer Dmitri Utkin was believed to be Wagner’s first field commander. The group’s name itself could have been taken directly from Mr Utkin’s call sign.

Since the start of the war against Ukraine in February last year, Wagner troops have played a key role in Russia’s invasion, succeeding in taking Bakhmut, the city that has seen the bloodiest and longest battles. 

It is believed there are tens of thousands of troops attached to the Wagner Group, although the exact size of the force is unknown.

The US estimated in December the Wagner Group had as many as 50,000 personnel inside Ukraine. Those numbers are reported to include tens of thousands of convicts from inside Russian prisons.

Veterans of Russia's elite regiments and special forces were understood to have made up the bulk of the initial personnel when the Wagner Group was launched.

In January, the UK Ministry of Defence said: "Wagner almost certainly now commands 50,000 fighters in Ukraine and has become a key component of the Ukraine campaign.”


Who is Yevgeny Prigozhin?

Mr Prigozhin is a Russian oligarch and a convicted thief. At the age of 20 in 1981, he was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for robbery. Mr Prigozhin went on to serve a total of nine years in detention.

Mr Prigozhin has stepped up his criticism of Russia’s military leadership, accusing it of shelling his fighters.

Following his release, Mr Prigozhin started out selling hot dogs in Leningrad, but had soon founded and launched a series of businesses.

He grew closer to Mr Putin during the 2000s, with this companies winning a series of lucrative government contracts that significantly added to his influence.

The conflict in Ukraine has provided Mr Prigozhin with a far wider platform for influence.

The owner of the Wagner private military company claimed on Friday his forces now control military facilities in Rostov-on-Don – a key Russian city

Mr Prigozhin has stepped up his criticism of Russia’s military leadership, accusing it of shelling his fighters.

Yevgeny Prigozhin

Why has the Wagner coup started?

Mr Prigozhin has long been in an open feud with military chiefs running the war against Ukraine, but that has now turned into a revolt.

He claimed on Friday that Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu had ordered an attack on his field camps in Ukraine.

Mr Prigozhin alleged the chief of the general staff, Gen Valery Gerasimov, had scrambled warplanes to strike Wagner’s convoys, which were driving alongside ordinary vehicles. He also said his forces had shot down a Russian military helicopter that fired on a civilian convoy, but there was no independent confirmation of this.

Mr Prigozhin said Wagner field camps in Ukraine were struck by rockets, helicopter gunships and artillery fire on orders from Gerasimov, following a meeting in Rostov-on-Don with Mr Shoigu at which they decided to destroy Wagner.

Mr Prigozhin said he had 25,000 troops under his command and would punish Mr Shoigu in an armed rebellion, and urged the army not to offer resistance. “This is not a military coup, but a march of justice,” he claimed.

While the outcome of the confrontation is still unclear, it appears likely to further hinder Moscow’s war effort as Kyiv’s forces are probing Russian defences in the initial stages of a counter-offensive.


Where is Rostov?

Rostov-on-Don is a city and the administrative centre of Rostov oblast – the Russian name for ‘province’. The city lies along the lower Don River and was founded in 1749. It is situated about 670 miles south of Moscow.

The UK Minister of Defence (MoD) has said of Rostov-on-Don that “Wagner has almost certainly occupied key security sites”, including the Russian military headquarters that oversees the fighting in Ukraine.

“Further Wagner units are moving north through Vorenezh Oblast, almost certainly aiming to get to Moscow,” the MoD said. “With very limited evidence of fighting between Wagner and Russian security forces, some have likely remained passive, acquiescing to Wagner.”

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