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World tries to make sense of Russian Wagner turmoil

June 24, 2023

The Wagner Group rebellion in Russia has given a dramatic new turn to the conflict in Ukraine. Kyiv's allies are observing events with interest — and some with hope. DW rounds up international reactions so far here.

Barriers seen at Red Square in Moscow
Moscow's Red Square has been closed to the public amid the Wagner Group rebellionImage: Sofya Sandurskaya/ITAR-TASS/IMAGO

Countries across the world on Saturday were mulling possible responses to the drama unfolding in Russia as the mercenary Wagner Group appeared to be mounting a serious challenge to the country's military and political leadership.

Wagner's actions looked set to provide another major military distraction for Russia, already seeking to ward off a counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces. 

But later on Saturday evening, Belarus' president's office and Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin both said they had brokered a deal to halt hostilities and for Wagner troops to turn back. 

The chaotic day in Russia was by far the clearest indication to date of the lack of cohesion among Russia's various military and political stakeholders, which had been most visible in Prigozhin's repeated critical comments about the fighting in Ukraine and leadership from Moscow in recent weeks. 

The bulk of international reactions on Saturday came before the apparent truce within Russia. International leaders had been cautious when trying to assess what the apparent rebellion could mean for the fates of Ukraine and potentially Russia itself.

Germany: Government 'closely observing' developments

A German government spokesman said on Saturday that Chancellor Olaf Scholz was being "constantly informed" about events in Russia amid the Wagner rebellion.

The White House also said that US President Joe Biden had spoken with Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to discuss developments. 

According to a German Foreign Ministry spokesperson, the government's crisis team has been holding a meeting at the ministry to discuss the situation.

The spokesperson said that Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had consulted with G7 foreign ministers on the matter.

Travel and security advice for German citizens in Russia was modified by the Foreign Ministry on Saturday morning, with German nationals told to avoid the affected areas and in particular the city of Rostov-on-Don and its surrounding area. 

Baerbock herself wrote on Twitter that developments in Russia were being observed with great attention and that Germany was in close contact with its international partners. She also urged German nationals in Russia to observe the modified travel and security advice.  

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said the situation was difficult to predict when asked about possible effects of the uprising on Russia itself and its war on Ukraine.

"That is tricky to assess, especially since we do not know how unstable Russia will become and who will ultimately have the upper hand and who will join forces with whom," he said on the sidelines of a party conference of his Social Democrats in the state of Lower Saxony.  

EU crisis response center activated

Top EU diplomat Josep Borrell also said in a tweet that he had a call with G7 foreign ministers "to exchange views on the situation in Russia. Ahead of Monday's EU Foreign Affairs Council, I am coordinating inside the European Union and have activated the crisis response center."

Italy has also warned its citizens in Russia to exercise caution, while Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was also following events closely, according to a statement from her official residence in Rome.

Meloni said that the rebellion showed that the "aggression against Ukraine is also leading to instability within the Russian Federation." 

Latvia, Estonia tighten border security

Officials in both Latvia and Estonia, which border Russia, said they had stepped up border security in response to the situation in Russia.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics wrote on Twitter that "visa or border entry from Russians leaving Russia due to current events won't be considered."

He said, however, that there is "no direct threat to Latvia at this time."

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas wrote on Twitter that Estonia was "closely following" developments and exchanging information with allies.

Muted reaction from US, Canada

US President Joe Biden was briefed on the situation in Russia and Washington and "will be consulting with allies and partners on these developments," National Security Council spokesman Adam Hodge said.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that his country's incident response group would meet to discuss the latest developments in Russia  

"We're in contact with our allies and will continue to monitor the situation closely," Trudeau wrote on Twitter.

Russian leadership questioned

Politicians in the Czech Republic, which is a major supporter of Ukraine, have responded to the situation in Russia with remarks suggesting some optimism about its effect on Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

"I can see my summer holiday in Crimea is approaching," said Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky, referring to the territory annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014. 

"So we finally know what the Russians mean by a Special Operation," said Czech Defense Minister Jana Cernochova, referring to the term given by the Kremlin to its invasion of Ukraine. 

"After 16 months of the war in Ukraine, Russia is waging war on Russia. No surprise. It's a tradition over there. Failed wars end up with the tsar being executed, with chaos and with a civil war supervised by snoopers. Congratulations," she said. 

But some of the most pointed schadenfreude at Moscow's current plight came from Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion and an outspoken Russian critic of the Kremlin regime.

"Having been defeated repeatedly by Ukraine, Russian forces have found an easier opponent, one with corrupt leadership, incompetent commanders, and low morale," he wrote in a tweet.

tj/msh (dpa, AFP)