June 27, 2023

The NGS Risk team produces a weekly situation report on the conflict in Ukraine. This week, NGS Risk Analyst Edward Bach also looks at the events in Russia over the weekend, and considers the implications that the Wagner Group’s actions may have on the Ukraine war.  




In contrast to the previously laboured progress of the counteroffensive, Ukrainian forces have made steady advances across all fronts this week; Ukrainian deputy defence minister, Hanna Maliar, claimed yesterday that Ukraine has ‘liberated’ 17 square kilometres over the course of the week.


The most intense fighting has been recorded along the administrative border between western Donetsk and eastern Zaporizhzhia oblasts, and in western Zaporizhzhia. Yesterday, Ukrainian sources (corroborated by geolocated footage) revealed that Ukrainian forces had captured Rivnopil, situated just within the Donetsk administrative border. This morning, UK Defence Intelligence revealed that Ukrainian airborne forces had made small advances east from the village of Krasnohorivka (approximately 25km west of Donetsk city); this is likely one of the first instances that Ukrainian forces have recaptured territory occupied by Russian forces since 2014.


The British MOD also reported that Ukrainian forces are now in the ascendancy in the assault on Bakhmut. The Ukrainian multi-brigade operation has acquired territory on both the northern and southern flanks of the town, demonstrated by the successful attacks on Kurdiumivka (23km SW), Klishchiivka (6km SW) and Yahidne (3km NW) conducted over the course of this week.


Amid reports of heavy fighting in the southern theatre, Russian defences have reportedly been significantly expanded, especially on the approaches to Crimea. This includes an extensive zone of defences 9km in length near Armyansk, on the narrow bridge of land connecting Kherson oblast with Crimea.


Russian forces are reported to have made ground in Luhansk oblast this week after conducting a successful attack in the Serebryanka Forest near Kremina. However, it is not believed the success of the operation has been converted into large gains in the region.


President Zelensky claimed on Friday that Russia is planning a “radiation disaster” following allegations that Russian forces have mined the perimeter of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.




On Friday night, a video posted by a Wagner Group-affiliated Telegram channel was widely disseminated across social media, depicting the aftermath of a missile strike at a Wagner Group camp, purportedly conducted by the Russian military. Subsequently, on Saturday, Wagner Group forces launched an armed mutiny in southern Russia, initiated by the encirclement of the Russian South Military District’s headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, before travelling northwards along the M4 highway towards Moscow. Geolocated footage demonstrates that Wagner Group forces travelled as far as Krasnoe, Lipetsk oblast, (330km south of Moscow) before their leader Yevgeny Prigozhin announced at 2024h that his units should turn around and head back to camps.


The convoy descending on Moscow was reportedly comprised of up to 4,000 personnel and between 40 and 50 pieces of equipment, including MRAPs, T-90 battle tanks, Pantsir air defence systems and Grad MLRS systems. During the convoy’s journey to Moscow, Wagner forces shot down at least seven Russian aircraft, including six rotary wing aircraft and one transport plane, making it one of the single deadliest days for the Russian air force since the start of the Ukraine conflict.


The convoy eventually stood down after officials in Belarus announced that President Aleksandr Lukashenko had mediated between Prigozhin and Putin, and had concluded an agreement. As a consequence of the agreement, Prigozhin has been effectively exiled to Belarus, Wagner fighters that did not take part in the mutiny will sign contracts with the Russian MOD, and Wagner fighters who did take part have not been charged.


The trigger for the events on Saturday was likely the 10 June Defence Ministry order that all volunteer detachments would have to sign contracts with the government. Though it did not explicitly mention Wagner Group, the implication was clear: a subordination of private military companies’ autonomy to the Russian MOD. Yesterday, Prigozhin confirmed this order fuelled the mutiny through a statement on his Telegram channel, in which he claimed that he wished to protest against the 10 June order and illuminate the weaknesses of the Russian domestic defences.


In response to Prigozhin’s statement yesterday, President Putin subsequently released an enraged five-minute speech in which he claimed the orchestrators of the mutiny had “betrayed the country” and that any “blackmail and unrest are doomed to fail”. Putin also sought to distinguish between those Wagner fighters who continue “serving Russia” and those who committed treason in their actions. This morning, the Federal Security Service (FSB) announced that it had dropped the criminal investigation into Wagner Group’s uprising and Prigozhin himself as “[Wagner] participants ceased the activities directly aimed at committing the crime”.


Yesterday, state accounts published a video of Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visiting a command post in Ukraine. Although it is unclear where or when the footage was filmed, it was clearly posted on social media to signal renewed support for Shoigu. Despite this, persistent speculation over his and Chief of General Staff, Valery Gerasimov’s, future remains rife.




President Biden is expected to reveal in the coming days an additional aid package for Ukraine worth up to USD500m. The package is rumoured to include: Bradley armoured fighting vehicles, Stryker armoured personnel carriers, HIMARS munitions, Patriot SAM munitions, Javelins, Stingers.




The news of Ukrainian territorial gains this week will be extremely well-received given the hitherto relatively limited progress of the long-heralded counteroffensive. In particular, the news of successful Ukrainian operations in Bakhmut will provide a morale boost to its forces given the symbolic significance the city has assumed in recent months. However, fighting in Zaporizhzhia oblast is likely to remain extremely attritional in the coming weeks, especially given news that Russian forces are strengthening their already extensively fortified positions in the region. Elsewhere, reports that Russian forces have mined the vicinity of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is likely the continuation of Russia’s strategy of evoking fears about the prospect of nuclear disaster to dissuade Ukrainian operations in the region.


The immediate military implications of the weekend’s events on Ukraine are most likely fairly limited given that Wagner Group was being used for offensive, not defensive operations. Consequently, Wagner forces had been reconstituted following the grinding siege of Bakhmut and were not expected to play an instrumental role in repelling the ongoing counteroffensive. Moreover, even during the zenith of Wagner operations the group had little presence in Zaporizhzhia oblast, where much of the Ukrainian counteroffensive activity has occurred. Although Kyiv will likely try to capitalise upon the destabilising events of the weekend, the immediate impact of the mutiny on the battlefield is still only likely to be incremental.


However, Saturday’s events will have a myriad of other wide-reaching implications, though many of which are currently uncertain. This is because the nature of the agreement between Putin and Prigozhin which quelled the mutiny is extremely opaque. Putin’s appeal to Wagner Group fighters in his speech yesterday indicates the intention to integrate Wagner units within the conventional armed forces; however, the logistical viability of this is unclear. It is possible that the Russian MOD will seek to disband Wagner Group to reinforce existing military formations, or it may seek to establish a new MOD-affiliated PMC. Nonetheless, it is clear Wagner fighters are indispensable to the overall war effort and it is of paramount importance for the Russian MOD to retain the support and commitment of as many fighters as possible. However, given the autonomy its fighters previously enjoyed, coupled with the deep contempt many retain towards the MOD, subordination within the conventional forces is unlikely to be well-received.


The implications on Wagner Group’s overseas operations and the fate of Prigozhin as head of such operations also remain uncertain. The humiliation Prigozhin inflicted upon the broader Russian security apparatus by orchestrating the capturing of a military base and marching uncontested towards Moscow has turned regime figures irrevocably against Prigozhin. Consequently, the likelihood that he will be permitted to retain a role of any meaningful influence is extremely low. However, Wagner Group’s overseas operations retain the potential to be very fruitful for the Kremlin, both financially and in projecting soft power. Therefore, it is likely the Kremlin will seek to continue Wagner’s overseas operations, potentially under a new name and restructured overall command.


The fates of Shoigu and Gerasimov are also currently unclear. Both figures have been subjected to frequent derision from Prigozhin, who has attributed many of Russia’s military failures to their direct influence. The posting on social media of a video of Shoigu was a clear statement of faith from the Kremlin, though it is uncertain how long this will last. The fate of both men is likely to be determined by the success of Ukraine’s counteroffensive; if Ukrainian forces manage to penetrate the Russian lines it will vindicate Prigozhin’s criticism of the Russian MOD whilst also exacerbating internal divisions even further.


NGS Advice


Due to the ongoing military action, NGS recommends you stay away from all critical national infrastructure (military, transportation, energy, communication hubs) as these are a focus for conflict attack.


Avoid travel where possible and contact NGS if you need assistance. We are working closely with local partners to initiate evacuation when required and there remains good availability of ground support assets for clients seeking to conduct relief operations in-country.




Author: Edward Bach, Risk Analyst, Northcott Global Solutions




Northcott Global Solutions provides risk assessments, tracking, security escorts, personal protective equipment, remote medical assistance and emergency evacuation.




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