The Russian private military coup that lasted 24 hours
On the evening of June 23, 2023, the Wagner Group leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, called for a coup d'etat against Russia's military leadership. On Telegram, the private military company's founder made an unverified claim that Russian generals approved an airstrike in Ukraine that killed a "huge number" of his fighters. In response, Prigozhin affirmed that he would "go to the end" in order to "end this mess."
Approximately 25,000 Wagner mercenaries were reportedly mustered to march on Moscow along with tanks and other armored vehicles. Prigozhin called on the Russian Army and National Guard to join his coup. With the Russian military on high alert, the Wagner Group advanced into the Rostov region. Federal Russian forces deployed to defend strategic locations in Moscow and Rostov, with dozens of aircraft reportedly flying into Rostov. The governor of the region cautioned residents to remain indoors.
As Prigozhin's troops advanced, conflict broke out in the city of Rostov-on-Don in Russia near the border with Ukraine. Wagner fighters detained civilians in the street and Prigozhin claimed that his forces shot down a Russian helicopter that fired on civilians. Prigozhin also claimed that Russian soldiers skirmished with his mercenaries but that 60 to 70 of the regular troops joined his coup. Although details of the conflict in the city are unclear and unconfirmed, Wagner did capture the Headquarters of the Southern Military District in Rostov by the morning of June 24.
Also on the morning of June 24, Russian officials cautioned residents of the Voronezh region not to travel on the M4 north-south highway; a Wagner convoy was on the road leading to Moscow. According to Reuters, a witness reported seeing a Russian helicopter fire on the Wagner convoy outside on Voronezh. Addressing the nation, Vladimir Putin called Prigozhin's actions "treason" and a "knife in the back of our people." The Russian president admitted that Wagner took control of some areas, but vowed, "Decisive action will be taken."
As Wagner forces advanced on Moscow, residents of Russia's capital were warned to remain in their homes. Anti-terrorist measures were enacted throughout the city as well as others nearby. These included armed police checkpoints along roads. Prigozhin claimed that his forces advanced within 124 miles of Moscow before he stood them down. "We are turning our columns around and going back to our field camps," he said.
Before a full-scale conflict broke out, a truce between Wagner and the Russian government was brokered by Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Prigozhin agreed to call off his forces and move his company from Russia to Belarus. In exchange, Putin and the Kremlin dropped their plans to dismantle the Wagner Group and all charges against Prigozhin for his coup.