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What on earth is happening in Rostov?

This surreal turn in the 2023 plotline is a bold stroke, but if the writers can pull off the swivel from tragedy to black comedy, I could get to like it.

Russia-Ukraine war live: Wagner chief claims to be in Rostov military HQ; Moscow accuses him of trying to start ‘civil conflict’ – the Guardian. Note that Rostov is in Russia, not Ukraine.

Putin to speak as Wagner mercenary chief accused of mutiny – BBC.

Both those links go to constantly updated blogs, so the headlines will almost certainly change in the next few minutes.

Update 10:30am BST: the BBC’s rolling blog now says “Russian sources are now saying that Wagner fighters have taken control of all military facilities in the city of Voronezh, a halfway point between Rostov-on-Don (where Wagner also says it’s in charge) and the capital Moscow.”

42 comments to What on earth is happening in Rostov?

  • bobby b

    I can only imagine what a huge (huge!) financial package the West was willing and happy to put together to buy the Wagners and win this. Nation-financing piles. If this is even close to what happened, good move.

  • Marius

    buy the Wagners

    Why bother? It has been widely predicted that the ongoing failure of the invasion would lead to falling out amongst Russian’s collection of shaven-headed dead-eyed psychopaths and this seems to be what is happening.

  • From today’s perspective do Bakhmut and Bolgorod make sense as efforts to foment rebellion?

  • Nice of Prigozhin to open up a second front. Just what the Ukrainians need.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    If you like your news fast but not necessarily very well checked, there’s Denys’s Telegram channel: https://t.me/pilotblog

    There’s also War Translated for news from Russian sources: https://t.me/wartranslated

    And on Twitter:

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Prigozhin saw his chance with the Russian army being weakened and preoccupied. He probably sincerely believes most of what he’s saying (he’s mostly right).

    He was also backed into a corner by threats to make all his men sign up to the Russian army.

    What I’m not sure about is how much Putin is really on his side and using this as a way to shake things up and withdraw from Ukraine, or whether Putin’s technique of keeping his various minions at each others’ throats to stop them becoming too powerful has finally come unstuck.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Putin’s speech with subtitles: https://t.me/freerussia_report/2994

    He’s comparing this to 1917

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Listening to Prigozhin’s speech, I’m disappointed to hear him claim that his aim is not to disrupt the war in the Ukraine but to conduct it more effectively. Elsewhere it was reported that he said that Moscow’s justifications for the war were false, and that a deal could have been made with Zelensky and the war avoided. But who knows what he really said, or meant.

  • Elsewhere it was reported that he said that Moscow’s justifications for the war were false, and that a deal could have been made with Zelensky and the war avoided.

    Bit late for regret, Prigozhin

    Then again, this war has made the Russians look like the corrupt fools we always suspected they were, so thanks for clarifying that at least.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Listening to Prigozhin’s speech, I’m disappointed to hear him claim that his aim is not to disrupt the war in the Ukraine but to conduct it more effectively.

    Well, he would, wouldn’t he?

  • llamas

    Machiavelli right again.



  • Snorri Godhi

    Machiavelli right again.

    Is that a reference to Niccolò’s negative opinion of mercenaries?

  • llamas

    Of course – it is 100% on-point.

    To bobby b.’s point about the ‘Wagner group’ potentially being bought-off by Western interests – it’s very possible that this is the case, but (IMHO) this would be a very foolish move, for the exact reasons Machiavelli expressed – you just paid a nation-sized amount of money to a dangerous, well-armed and very violent group, led by borderline psychopaths, who in the very act of taking your salt, have demonstrated that they won’t stay bought and are available to the highest bidder. And – If you once pay the Danegeld – you can never be rid of the Dane. Now they’re your psychopaths. Don Vito would have taken a rather-different approach.



  • Patrick Crozier

    I think Prigozhin found himself in a position where the choice was rebel or die. Didn’t Julius Caesar find himself in a similar situation once upon a time?

    Prigozhin has the advantage of being the man who fights, fights effectively, exposes himself to danger, is loyal to his subordinates and is honest. But in the Russian context these may be disadvantages.

    I suspect the attitude of the Russian air force will be decisive.

  • Snorri Godhi

    I am also reminded of Bronn’s words to Tyrion and Jaime in the last-but-2 episode of Game of Thrones, to the effect that he is tired of shoveling shit for the Lannisters.
    (Excuses for using Bronn’s choice of words.)

  • Maybe someone in Moscow wants a distraction while they provide a bit of necessary de-Putinizing?

    A bit like Operation Valkyrie.

    Putin flees the capital to “safety” and General X seizes control. Meanwhile, Putin’s plane develops mechanical failure before it reaches its destination, so long and farewell, Vladimir.

    All very regrettable with no-one clearly to blame and no Putin to go before the International Court in the Hague.

    Why not? Plenty of the higher ups are suffering from the war in Ukraine without any upside. Get some assurances from the US State Department about post-Putin ceasefire / de-escalation of sanctions and it’s an easy sell.

    That’s why Putin’s doubtful allies and colleagues have been falling out of multi-story buildings for most of this year and last.

  • The only way to secure peace is for Russia to make territorial concessions to Wagner 😀

  • The only way to secure peace is for Russia to make territorial concessions to Wagner

    Wouldn’t that be funny. Which are the Reds and which are the Whites in this Civil War?

    Still think it’s just a distraction for a coup in Moscow though.

    Only way Russia works, swap out the “Hard Man” with another.

    New boss same as the old boss.

  • JJM

    What a shambles.

    A “superpower” that cannot even control its own hired henchmen. The fact that there even is such a thing as the Wagner Group roaming around armed for bear demonstrates what a mess Russia is in.

    Failing seems to be about the only thing the Russians do well these days.

  • It’s not over yet.

    By making concessions to Wagner, Putin looks weak, especially if rumours of him fleeing Moscow for St. Petersburg are true.

    Weak men don’t last long.

  • bobby b

    “Weak men don’t last long.”

    Or they do something outrageous in order to be seen as strong again.

    This may be Putin’s most dangerous hour.

  • llamas

    Regarding ‘weak men’ – I was just listening to Konstantin Kisin on this crisis, and he recounted how, the last time this sort of thing happened in Russia, at the time of Yeltsin, the keywords that Yeltsin used to achieve popular support were ‘A Strong Leader for A Strong Russia’, and these seem to be the keywords now – this is what Yuri in the street wants. Seems like this Prighozin (sp?) commands a lot of grudging respect in Russia because of the successes of his operation in the Ukraine and other places. So the stage is now set for direct conflict between him and Putin, and Putin has to recapture the image of the ‘strong leader’ quickly and decisively, or not at all. This way lies florid violence in grandiose amounts. When the elephants fight, it’s the mice that will be trampled.



  • Kirk

    About all anyone can say about this situation in Russia right now…

    WTF just happened?

    I’ve been watching and studying Russia since I was a teenager, and I have not a damn clue what the hell just went down. Up until a few hours ago, I was pretty sure that Prigozin was serious and that he was likely going to be hitting Moscow. His columns looked a hell of a lot more professional than the Russian Army’s did going into Ukraine, and he was making much better speed. The guy sure as hell looked like he had a plan, and a bunch of confederates in the Russian Army… Now?

    It’s going to be interesting to watch what happens to all the units that rallied to Prigozin’s side, now that he’s called it all off. I wonder how long until they’re purged, and what effect that will have on the war in Ukraine. Or, if this whole thing is maskirovka for something else.

    And, what the hell is Lukashenko doing? Wasn’t he at death’s door not too long ago, after a “health episode” in Moscow during the May festivities…?

    Churchill was right, about Russia. Mystery wrapped in enigma surrounded by total confusion. I have zero idea what the hell is going on with them, right now. I’d expected that Prigozin would have to be nuked to be stopped, but this…? Smacks of a pre-arranged WWF-style pratfall more than anything. Did he stage it with Putin for some unknown reason that we’ll see revealed shortly…?

  • Mr Ed

    I missed most of this as I am on holiday, but the problem with the ostensible plan was that Wagner are a division and a bit vs an air force, an army, FSB and Internal troops and other myriad forces of the Russian state, all of which would have contempt for a unit that although Russian is more like the (then foreign) Latvian Rifles and/or the Dirlewanger Brigade. They don’t have a safe haven for their money, Lenin paid the Rifles in gold, or independent logistics.

    Perhaps this was a loyalty test for the Russian chain of command which they passed, a variant of Mao’s letting a thousand flowers bloom?

  • Kirk

    Yeah, but there were all those units in Rostov and on the way out of there that rallied to Prigozin and Wagner, including one of the VDV outfits…

    How’s that going to be treated, and what happens to those guys?

    Then, what happens when the repercussions from that come out? Supposedly, the FSB are already rounding up Wagner family members out in the hinterlands, so… Yeah.

    This cannot possibly make life any easier or better for Putin, so… If he’s the one behind it all, WTF?

  • Bogdan the Aussie

    A very good analysis by one of the best, Jeff Nyquist



  • Steven R

    What I don’t get is why Belorussia is willing to let Putin deploy nukes on their soil. I understand the money Russia is pumping into the place, and the influence that goes along with it, and all of that, but at the end of the day Putin can be told “no”. What’s he going to do, start another war? Back a coup against Lukashenko and start a civil war? Cut off the money spigot to Minsk and risk having them turn elsewhere for support (e.g. the EU or NATO)?

    Wouldn’t that be something if the whole point of this war was Ukraine was getting too chummy for Putin’s likes and all it ended up doing was driving Finland, Sweden, Ukraine, and Belorussia into becoming NATO members?

  • mickc

    No..probably far from a good move! This guy with nukes..
    No thanks!

  • Mr Ed

    Well at least Finland hasn’t taken advantage of Russian disarray on the 82nd anniversary to start another Continuation War to retake Karelia or its Arctic Ocean frontage.

  • Snorri Godhi

    I am confused:
    Yesterday i read on the BBC’s rolling blog that Prigozhin is a hardliner who favored using tactical nukes in Ukraine.

    Yet from this and other sources, i learn that Prigozhin said that the Ukraine war is based on lies.

    Has he had a crisis of conscience?

    In the Prigozhin speech that Rob Fisher linked to (9:02 am) there is mention of lies about the number of casualties, but not of lies used to justify the war.

  • Well at least Finland hasn’t taken advantage of Russian disarray on the 82nd anniversary to start another Continuation War to retake Karelia or its Arctic Ocean frontage.


    Finland of 2023 is not the same country that it was in 1923 by a long measure, but if collapse and carve up of Russia ever happened, they would certainly demand return of their lost Karelia.

    Ideally without the Russian scum currently in it.

  • Kirk


    I don’t think the Finns necessarily want Karelia back, at this point, and sure as hell don’t want to have to take it back via conflict. If the current lot of Karelians decided they wanted to petition for the opportunity to join themselves with Finland, then that might happen. Maybe. They’d likely have to foreswear Russian as a language and take some serious loyalty oaths.

    The Finns I know don’t want a damn thing to do with “provoking the bear”, even if it’s wounded. The Continuation War cured them of that whole “Karelia Irredenta” idea, I think.

    Also, the fact is that a bunch of deported former Finns that lived in Karelia have filtered back into that region under the Soviets and the Russian Federation. I don’t know how many there are, but there are enough to be able to question the premise of the area being entirely Russian…

    It’ll be interesting to watch the next few years. I’ve often wondered if the whole Ukrainian misadventure wasn’t a controlled demolition of the Russian Federation undertaken by some of the parties involved, particularly the Tuvan Shoigu. There is no way in hell you can be that f*cking incompetent at your job, without actively working at it. Statistics would suggest that if Shoigu were a real incompetent, then at least some of his decisions should have worked out, just by random chance. None of his have, soooooo… Ya have to wonder: Is he doing what he’s done deliberately? If so, why?

    Answer to that might be in that “controlled demolition” of Putin’s nation-state level criminal enterprise.

  • Steven R

    And if not, I’m sure the ghost of Simo Hayha is just itching to comeback and add a few dozen more notches to the buttstock of his rifle.

  • Kirk

    Yeah, but this time around, he’ll have all the new toys the Finns have been buying…

    It’s hardly accidental that they and the Poles have acquired the largest artillery parks in Europe, nor that the rest of their arsenals are full to the brim with new and improved gear.

    Finland is a place I’d leave the hell alone, if I were a Russian with common sense. Which is apparently so rare in Russia as to constitute a mutant superpower…

    Few people know the history of Finland’s military culture. The Germans basically grafted the ethos and attitude of the Prussian Jaeger units onto the Finns they trained during WWI, and those guys took all of that to heart, and then based the entire modern Finnish military culture on that. Which is why they did so well in the Winter War and the Continuation War, fighting well above their weight.

    I keep hoping someone is finally going to pay attention to the 19th Century rise of the light infantry across Europe, with attention paid to the contributions that whole movement made to modern tactics and military operations, but… Nobody is doing the work. Whether you’re talking about the Italian Bersagliere, the German/Austrian Jaegers, the Finnish Jaakari, or the French versions of the idea, all of them did rather more to shape modern warfare than they are commonly credited. The Finns are just one of the more effective outgrowths of that whole movement, in that their entire army culture comes out of that milieu.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Well, whatever WAS happening it isn’t happening now. Putin won. One would like to say “without a shot being fired.” but that’s not quite true. Certainly, without many shots being fired and with his opponent being defeated with words rather than force. Rather puts me in mind of the Pilgrimage of Grace.

  • Putin won

    A rather pyrrhic victory though, since it has exposed the division in his own ranks. He has been left weaker. That he has vanished out of sight with only pre-recorded and undated video appearing of him on the news suggests that he is holed up trying to plan his next steps.

    He knows full well that he must strike first at his enemies while he still has nominal power. Everyone expects Putin to start a Stalinist purge (since that’s essentially the only move left), so, for those threatened it might be time to strike while they can.

    Everything is to play for. Nothing is set in stone.

  • Fraser Orr

    Anyone want to make book on when Prigozhin will die of some mysterious radiation poisoning? Not till after Wagner has been defanged and spread throughout the Russian military I think.

  • Kirk

    I, for one, ain’t taking bets on anything in Russia, Belarus, or Ukraine. Nothing. Nada. Nietch.

    Friday night, I thought there was a serious chance that Prigozin was certain of what he was doing, and that if Putin wanted to stay in power, then he’d need to nuke Rostov to cauterize the situation. Saturday morning, I was in awe of the rate of advance Prigozin was making, and the utter lack of real resistance. Saturday afternoon? WTF?

    The only thing you can count on is that you don’t know what is going on from anywhere we can see things, and that even the people in the game don’t know what the hell is going on. You’ll note that a lot of the parties that fled Moscow are still “fled”, soooooo… Take that for what it’s worth. Which is nothing, really.

    This entire situation is utterly without precedent or parallel; we’ve never had a nuclear superpower (which is the only thing keeping the Russian Federation from being rated on about a par with South Africa, a decaying regional power…) go through shenanigans like this. No idea where things are going; all bets are off, and if you’re taking any, you’re a damn fool. The whole of these last 96 hours could well have been stage-managed from the Kremlin, for reasons unknown. On the other hand, maybe Prigozin was genuine and just delusional… Who the f*ck knows?

    I’m reminded of the whole era where there were rampant pretenders to the Tsar’s throne after the fall of the Rurik dynasty, that the Russians call the Smutnoye Vremya. This is about the same level of stupidity, with the regions being indifferent to what was going on in Moscow. You’ll note that nobody was up in arms to either stop Wagner’s move north, nor were they joining in with it, either. It was a semi-holiday atmosphere, where the people in the towns they blew past just going about their daily business. That street sweeper in Rostov about typified it, carefully sweeping around the feet of the heavily-armed Wagnerites like they were statues or participants in some sort of street theater… And, that’s all this may have been, in the end: Street theater. With guns. And, maybe nukes…

  • NickM

    Prigozin never had the forces to take Moscow by forcing a coup or similar but he had enough to rattle Putin’s cage sufficienctly buy his own personal freedom – Russia/Wagner relations having been on a downward spiral for some time and that meant a very good chance of something “unfortunate” happening to Prigozin personally. It all makes sense. But only after the fact. So, Kirk, I think your plan on making no bets on “The East” is a wise one. I don’t think it was street theatre. Prigozin essentially presented Putin with a choice. Either let me get outta here! Or, we’ll have the Russian Army having to fight its “own” mercenaries on Russian soil. Now that would have been theatre in the sense of it being a tragedy pushing into farce. I suspect Putin saw that there is no way he could spin that position (a mini civil war in Russia itself) as anything other than an unmittergated disaster.

  • Kirk

    The entire situation is opaque as hell to us, where we sit outside Russia. It may (and probably is…) be opaque to the participants within Russia.

    Time will tell. I don’t rule anything out; Lukashenko has been angling to succeed Yeltsin and then Putin for as long as he’s had Belarus, wanting to “put the old gang back together again”. Putin may have been playing him back in May (hospitalization during the festivities in Moscow, which ain’t been explained as of yet…) and Lukashenko may have been playing Putin. Prigozin might be a Trojan horse meant to get close to Lukashenko and then shiv him, or… The possibilities are endless. Real-world “Game of Thrones”, this is. With nukes. Happy-happy joy-joy…