silhouette of soldiers walking

Over the weekend, the leader of the Wagner Group of mercenaries started a mutiny in Russia. What happened? What is the Wagner Group? Who is Yevgeny Prigozhin? Why was there and conflict? And what does this mean for Vladimir Putin, the Ukraine war, and the future of the Wagner Group? Let’s discuss this all today!

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  • Mercenary (n) – a soldier who fights for any country or group that pays them.
    • Mercenaries have been working for groups across Africa.
  • Mutiny (n) – an occasion when a group of people, especially soldiers or sailors, refuses to obey orders and/or attempts to take control from people in authority.
    • There were rumours of mutiny among the troops.
  • Insurrection (n) – an organized attempt by a group of people to defeat their government and take control of their country, usually by violence.
    • Hundreds of people have been arrested for taking part in the attempted US insurrection a few years ago.
  • Occupied (adj) – An occupied place is being controlled by an army or group of people that has moved into it.
    • The occupied territories will be returned once a peace treaty is signed.
  • To reclaim (v) – to take back something that was yours.
    • The army is attempting to reclaim the city.
  • Plausible deniability (phrase) – the ability of someone to deny any knowledge or involvement in a particular action or event, especially in a way that seems believable or credible.
    • The government officials maintained plausible deniability regarding the controversial operation, stating that they had no knowledge of it and were not involved in its planning or execution.
  • Incompetence (n) – lack of ability to do something successfully or as it should be done.
    • They have repeatedly criticised the incompetence of the government.
  • To operate (v) – to do business in or from a particular place.
    • We have representatives operating in most countries.

Russia has been in the news constantly since invading Ukraine over a year ago. The brutality of war, destruction of cities, and a large number of casualties have been clearly displayed for all of us to see.

Alongside the Russian military, a large private army of mercenaries has joined in Russia’s attempts to take control of Ukraine, operating in annexed regions and at the centre of battles. This group of mercenaries, known as the Wagner Group, has been infamous for years – they have been at the centre of conflicts in places like Syria, Sudan, and across the world.

But over the past few days, this Wagner Group and their leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, have been the centre of a new conflict – a conflict with Russia and the Russian military.  


Events in Russia!

The 24th of June will go down as one of the most eventful and unusual days in modern Russian history. It started with the powerful leader of a mercenary group starting a mutiny or insurrection in the country, crossing from the battlefields of Ukraine to Russian soil, and then starting a march from the south of the country to the capital Moscow.

The mercenaries had been most active the occupied regions of eastern Ukraine, but they moved across the border to the large city Rostov-on-Don. This is significant not just because the city is large, but because it is where Russia’s war in Ukraine is being coordinated. The Wagner Group claimed control of the military headquarters and the wider city.

The group then began to move up the main motorway to Moscow, stopping at a few other major cities, and reports suggested they were moving weapons through the country.

Russian President Putin appeared on TV, accusing his former friend and ally, Yevgeny Prigozhin, of treason and betrayal. Cities and regions were put in emergency conditions, with the mayor of Moscow telling people to stay indoors and the leaders of some regions closing roads.


Prigozhin boasted that he had 25,000 men ready to take to the streets – and it is well known that compared to the Russian military, the Wagner Group is incredibly loyal and motivated.

It seemed as if Russia was heading for a violent conflict between the Wagner Group and Russian forces. Could it be a coup attempt against Putin? Would the country fall into a civil war? Would people support the Wagner Group’s attempt?

Then, as quickly as it began, the mutiny was over. The march for justice, as the Wagner Group were calling their actions, was called off by Saturday evening and the troops returned to their bases.

A deal had been made by the leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko. Prigozhin has headed to Belarus, will not be prosecuted for any crimes in Russia, his troops will be forgiven, and his role in the Ukraine war is probably over.

What has been happening in the past few days?

Let’s take a deeper look at the Wagner Group and its leader, discuss why the relationship between the mercenaries and Russia broke down, and think about the consequences for the country!

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Who is Yevgeny Prigozhin?

The central figure of recent events is Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the infamous Wagner Group.

But before becoming the leader of an international mercenary group, Prigozhin was known as “Putin’s Chef”… because that is exactly what he was – a restaurant owner and chef.

After serving nearly 10 years in jail for theft and robbery, he started selling hot dogs on the streets of St Petersburg. In the early 1990s, The Soviet Union collapsed, and the country was now open to business, capitalism, and expansion. The success of his hot dog business enabled Prigozhin to open more expensive restaurants in the city, and these restaurants quickly attracted some of Russia’s elite and powerful leaders.

One of these leaders was Vladimir Putin, who would regularly take foreign visitors to Prigozhin’s restaurants in the early 2000s and even celebrated his birthdays there.

Prigozhin also founded catering businesses, which won the contracts to supply food to the military, public schools, and even the Kremlin (centre of Russian government) itself – hence the nickname “Putin’s chef”.

Prigozhin was not just restaurant owner – he also ran very different businesses.

What is the Wagner Group?

In 2014, Russia took over parts of Ukraine. A mysterious group of mercenaries appeared in the country, fighting alongside pro-Russian separatists and forces. This was the Wagner Group (or officially PMC Wagner).

This group is led by Putin’s chef!

The group is a secretive and private mercenary group. Back in 2014, it was made up mainly of former Russian elite soldiers – especially former members of the special forces. The group operated in some of the most serious and dangerous conflicts in the world. And wherever they operated, they were surrounded by accusations of human rights abuses and illegal actions.

The Wagner Group has been found in Syria and Libya, and recently in Mali (where the government is paying the Wagner Group to replace the role the French military used to have) and the Central African Republic. In all of these locations, they have been accused of torture, assaults, killings, and have taken control of oil in the middle east and diamond mines in Africa.

In many situations, Russia has used the Wagner Group as a form of plausible deniability. They are a private military organisation operating overseas and had no official relationship with the Russian government. This means that they could do things for the Russian government in the regions they operate, while Russia was able to deny its involvement – acting in conflicts in Sudan and Syria to support Russia’s interests and helping to annex Crimea without the Russian military.


Wagner’s first action was working with Russia to annex the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. And in the current Ukrainian conflict, Wagner has been at the centre.

They are widely suspected to have been present in Ukraine in the months before the invasion began, carrying out “false flag” attacks to help Russia justify the invasion. It was also reported that a group of Wagner mercenaries had travelled to Kyiv in the past to try and assassinate the Ukrainian president.

And in the actual conflict, the Wagner Group was involved in the capture of the Ukrainian city Bakhmut. Reports suggest that Wagner sent hundred of soldiers into dangerous situations and lost many soldiers in the fight.

The group has grown massively and controls around 50,000 mercenaries in Ukraine. Despite mercenary groups being technically illegal in Russia, Wagner has openly recruited thousands of men – the vast majority being taken from Russia’s prison system. They have also been taking people from other countries (like Serbia) and the distant regions of Russia.

Although the group was initially not mentioned by the Russian government in public, the key role they are playing in the Ukrainian invasion has increased their level of recognition and made the name famous.

Why is There Conflict Between Russia and the Wagner Group?

So why did a former friend of Putin alongside his army of soldiers fighting alongside Putin’s armies, mount a mutiny over the weekend?

As the conflict in Ukraine has gone on, the relationship between Prigozhin and senior figures in Russia’s military has deteriorated.

First, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has not gone to plan. What was supposed to be a quick move to invade, take control of the country, annex territory, and change the government, has become a long and bloody conflict. Ukraine has fought back, and Russia’s military incompetence has been clear for the world to see.

Prigozhin has repeatedly criticised the defence minister and head of army for this incompetence – including the quality of Russian troops, the poor planning and strategies, and accusations that Russia is not supplying the mercenaries properly.


Second, Russia angered Prigozhin by trying to take more control over the mercenary groups operating in Ukraine. The defence ministry has tried to merge groups like Wagner with the normal army.

This tension has undermined relations between Russia and the Wagner Group over recent weeks and months. Questions have also been raised about money and finances, with Wagner Group offices being raided by Russian police.

Importantly, Prigozhin is not against the war in Ukraine – the opposite is true. He believes part of Russia’s incompetence is that they have not been brutal enough. He wanted Russia to fight better – the current Russian approach has been to sacrifice hundreds of soldiers in poorly thought-out plans.

Then, on June 23rd, Prigozhin publicly accused the Russian military of bombing Wagner mercenaries in Ukraine and killing a large number of his men. The next day, his troops crossed the border and promised to remove the military leadership from their positions of power.

What does this mean?

Although the mutiny ended almost as quickly as it began, there could be significant and lasting consequences.

For Putin?

For Vladimir Putin, the events of the past few days have made him appear weaker than any other time in his leadership of the country. And for the first time, it seems really possible that the decision to invade Ukraine will eventually lead to end of Putin’s reign.

If the invasion of Ukraine has been successful and according to Russia’s plans, Putin would have secured himself as a hero. But the invasion has not gone to plan – it is clear that the information provided to Putin by his advisors was wrong and incorrect.

And now, this conflict has resulted in a mutiny against his military command. Russian cities went into lockdown, military vehicles were on the streets of Moscow in preparation to defend the city, and they even began digging defensive ditches. This does not put Putin in a strong position.

However, this “mutiny” could actually be a way for Putin to end the conflict in a slightly less embarrassing way. Putin cannot lose in the war. Defeat would be incredibly embarrassing. And the way things are going, Russia is probably not going to win much in the conflict.

The Wagner Groups actions could have given Putin the perfect excuse – Russia can now blame the mercenaries ruining their efforts. Rather than Russia failing, the Wagner Group was the problem. This could potentially save Putin!


For Ukraine?

For Ukraine, there are now a lot of possibilities.

The Wagner Group, despite being a private army made up of convicts and recruits from a variety of places, has been far more competent, strong, and committed than Russia’s own army. Now the future of the group is unknown.

While we can’t discount the Russian military completely, Ukraine’s chances at a successful counter-offensive must be much higher today. Wagner held important positions in Luhansk, Donetsk, Bahkmut and other occupied cities. If they are gone, who is going to organise the defence of these areas?

If the Russian military doesn’t take the place of Wagner troops, and match their commitment and ability, then Ukraine could reclaim a lot of land.


For the Wagner Group?

For Wagner, the future is definitely unknown.

Prigozhin has left for Belarus with the promise of no criminal charges. But will the group continue? Will all its troops become parts of the Russian military? What will happen to the forces in Africa and the Middle East? And what role with Prigozhin have?

Moreover, what were the details of the agreement to end the mutiny? Could Prigozhin have actually achieved his goal at getting the heads of the military and defence department replaced?

We’ll have to wait and see!

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Final Thought

The recent mutiny by the Wagner Group of mercenaries, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, has shocked the world. The conflict between the Group and the Russian military has exposed tensions and disagreements within Russia’s efforts to control Ukraine.

Despite the swift resolution of the mutiny, the event has weakened Vladimir Putin’s leadership and raised doubts about the success of Russia’s invasion. The future of the Wagner Group remains uncertain, with questions about their role in ongoing conflicts and the potential integration of their forces into the Russian military.

For Ukraine, the absence of the Wagner Group could present an opportunity to regain control over occupied territories. Ultimately, the consequences of this mutiny will unfold in the coming days and weeks, shaping the future dynamics in the region.

What do you think?

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

2 thoughts on “245. What is Happening in Russia?: Mutiny and the Wagner Group! (English Vocabulary Lesson)”
  1. I think you are totally right about Putin to get a chance to avoid from “the embrassing defeat” by this way. I did not know much about the Wagner until this podcast. They seem dangerous accorgin to this podcast, maybe after this mutiny, Russia would be much more careful about the law of war and human rights. Who knows?

  2. The advent of the Wagner is not unique, it resembles any other mercenary force in the world. Prior to the conflict, the Wagner had been globally operating for the vested interest of Russia.

    In order to address the conundrum in Ukraine at some point, they were sent to the warzone to fulfill the tactic target under the collaborative effort with the Russian military. The outcomes delight Russia, and at the same time, bring some disadvantages as well.

    In a sense, Wagner complements the capability of the Russian military. They suffered substantial setbacks almost from the outset of the conflict with Ukraine. What we can say almost certainly is this organization desperately need to replenish its depleted forces.

    In the recent few days, Wagner took the form of an armed insurrection to convey their outrages to prominent people in the military. In this scenario, it signifies a growing challenge for Russian politics, symbolizing that their hostility is unleashed on the public. We can only speculate about what happened to Russian politics with the combination of multiple military forces.

    As much as the news is devastating for Russia, perhaps it is somewhat a chance to balance the different factions subordinated by Russia to underpin their own power due to it is just an internal dispute. Fortunately, the peace negotiation run by Blerus predates the outbreak of a potential civil war.

    Other than that it is an internal contradiction, there are other two prevailing guess opinions. First, it is just a devious diversion of launching a new operation in Ukraine for Russia. Another one, it is mobilized by some Western government forces. Yet, I have not been ready to elaborate on them.

    From my point of view, this mutiny is not an unprecedented event in the world. The Wagner Group is a paramilitary organization. Through the Ukraine war, it becomes a peer conventional force to the Russian army. Most, if not all, tough missions in the past over one year were accomplished by this force.

    Generally speaking, treason is a severe crime, it seems not like this. Otherwise, we are definitely not able to travel back in time. However, whatever the reason, Wagner fended off to reassure its interests with an incorrect approach.

    Therefore, overlapping functions likely become a liability to a government. Whereas Wagner’s value is probably amplified, the retention of this force perhaps means something for Russia.

    Last but not least, the upside of the paramilitary group comes out, as well as its downside, world-widely, not a single private military organization should be considered to be scrupulous, in the meantime, before applying these forces in practice, governments should take a second thought, make fine backup plans for predictable crises, and most importantly, arbitrate internal issues as early and appropriately as possible.

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