Despite ending his revolt, the head of the mercenaries will continue to be a thorn in the side of the Kremlin.

What awaits Yevgeny Prigozhin?

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday that the Wagner chief had agreed to leave Russia for Belarus as part of a deal to end his armed revolt while charges against him for organizing the rebellion. Peskov added that Vladimir Putin and Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko had guaranteed Prigozhin’s personal safety.

The current whereabouts of the caudillo is unknown. The last time he was seen leaving the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don late on Saturday was in the middle of a massive reception.

In an audio message recorded shortly before his departure from the city, Prigozhin did not mention his exile to Belarus, instead saying that he had ordered his troops to return to their camps in Russian-occupied areas in eastern Ukraine, where they have been fighting alongside. Regular Russian soldiers.

Since then, Prigozhin has remained unusually silent, given his frequent use of social media. Many questions about his future remain unanswered, including his level of freedom and direct security, which may depend on what he does in Belarus.

Putin’s authority and self-image have suffered lasting damage as a result of the revolt, and Prigozhin’s continued public presence could further undermine the Kremlin’s credibility. But Prigozhin is known as a ruthless and ambitious figure, and some observers wonder if he will settle for an early retirement in Belarus.

Where are Wagner’s soldiers now?

When Prigozhin announced his revolt late Friday, he said he was commanding a force of 25,000 soldiers. After seizing control of Rostov-on-Don, a group of 5,000 men was sent further north towards Moscow before being ordered to halt their advances in the Lipetsk region, some 250 kilometers south of the Russian capital.

The head of the Lipetsk region declared on Sunday morning that all of Wagner’s forces had left his area; the mercenary fighters were also filmed leaving Rostov-on-Don late on Saturday, together with Prigozhin. It was not immediately clear if all the troops were headed for their bases in eastern Ukraine, as Prigozhin stated.

Although Wagner’s march lasted less than 24 hours, the group seems to have inflicted some damage on the Russian army. Rybar, a well-connected Russian Telegram channel, said Wagner’s fighters had shot down seven helicopters, killing 20 Russian soldiers.

Is it the end of Wagner?

Prigozhin built the Wagner group into a powerful force through years of interventions in Africa, the Middle East and, most recently, the Ukraine.

But on Saturday, the Kremlin hinted at disbanding the group, with Peskov saying fighters who had not participated in the march would sign contracts with the Defense Ministry.

Putin had previously said that all “volunteer units” had to sign contracts by July 1, which would put them under the control of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Peskov added that the Wagner fighters who had participated in the revolt would not be prosecuted, given their “past achievements at the front.”

As the Prigozhin revolt unfolded, the Russian authorities shut down his company page on VK (originally VKontakte), a Russian social media platform. Several Wagner recruiting centers across the country were also closed.

Despite the apparent failure of the mutiny and Peskov’s remarks, Wagner’s fighters appeared to be in luck on Saturday, honking their horns as they left Rostov-on-Don. Several Telegram channels linked to Wagner were similarly optimistic, suggesting that the uprising had achieved its goals.

Prigozhin is believed to be very popular with Wagner’s troops, and many of the fighters are believed to be personally loyal to him. A former commander Wagner told the Guardian that it was “unlikely” many of the soldiers would enlist in the regular Russian army.

“Wagner’s troops will not fight for the army,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Either Wagner or nothing.”

What will this mean for Africa?

Prigozhin’s future will also have major implications for Africa, a continent where Wagner has continued to expand his political, military and economic influence.

Wagner has an estimated 5,000 troops stationed across Africa, and companies linked to Prigozhin have signed security and military assistance contracts with the Central African Republic and Mali governments.

The Kremlin is also believed to have used the Wagner group in both countries to lure them into the Russian orbit, much to the dismay of their former colonial power, France.

Wagner’s possible departure creates new uncertainties for African governments that have relied on the group for their security and could complicate Moscow’s geopolitical influence on the continent.

Pjotr ​​Sauer