Last-Minute Negotiations Stop Wagner Group Coup

Last-Minute Negotiations Stop Wagner Group Coup

Mercenaries frustrated with government policies occupied a Russian town and planned to march on Moscow. Fortunately, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko mediated a solution that avoided bloodshed.

After the Ukraine War began, the Wagner Group’s ranks swelled from about 5,000 fighters to about 25,000. Wagner Group fighters in Ukraine complained about equipment shortages and mission orders. Russian military commanders sometimes ordered mercenaries to launch broad attacks over open ground. As a result, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin repeatedly accused defense minister Sergei Shoigu and the head of armed forces in Ukraine, Valery Gerasimov, of incompetence.

Things came to a head on June 23, when according to Prigozhin, Russian warplanes deliberately attacked Wagner Group positions. The mercenaries seized Rostov-on-Don on their way to Moscow. The aforementioned deal, which stopped a coup attempt, exiles Prigozhin and his loyal troops to Belarus. The remaining Wagner Group fighters will be absorbed into the Russian Army.

Military Coups

As a prominent teacher once stated, when you live by the sword, you die by the sword. Russia and other pseudo-democracies that heavily rely on armed forces to maintain their power are very susceptible to military coups. 

One of the first recorded military coups is a good example of the living by the sword and dying by the sword idea. In 876 B.C. Israel’s army commander Zimri assassinated King Elah and assumed the throne. About two years later, Zimri committed suicide when his army commander, Omri, was about to do the same thing to him.

Military coups were rare until ancient Rome. Perhaps the two most famous Roman coups were in 49 B.C. when Julius Caesar marched on Rome and became “dictator in perpetuity,” and in 44 B.C. when the perpetual dictatorship ended in the Ides of March assassination of Julius Caesar.

Such political turmoil was common in the ancient West but rare in the ancient East, which was much more stable. The 249 A.D. The Gaoping Tombs coup in China was one of the rare exceptions. 7-year-old Cao Fung became the Chinese emperor in 239. Just prior to his death, Cao’s father designated General-in-Chief Cao Shuang and Grand Commandant Sima Yi as co-regents.

The two regents distrusted each other intensely. Then, on February 5, 249, while the emperor and Cao Shuang visited a graveyard, Sima seized control of the government. Cao Shuang surrendered after Sima and his cohorts promised him leniency. They quickly went back on their word. Cao Shuang, his family, his supporters, and their families were all charged with treason and executed less than a week later.

Recent coups or near coups include the January 6, 2021, capitol demonstrations in Washington, D.C. (which may or may not have been a coup, depending on your perspective), along with successful coups in Myanmar (2021) and Burkina Faso (2022), and failed coups in Germany (2022) and Mali (2021).

The Post-Wagner World

Before the sudden falling out with Putin, the Wagner Group was a ruthless Russian puppet military organization that operated around the world, mostly in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The Wagner Group’s activities in Ukraine have been fairly well-documented. In the years prior, Russia sent Wagner Group fighters to shore up the government of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad during the most recent phase of that country’s long-running civil war. The Wagner Group also made its presence known in central and west Africa. Many of these countries, like the Central African Republic, have vast natural resources. But they are right on the line between mostly Muslim North Africa and mostly-Christian South Africa. 

With the Wagner Group’s demise, several new mercenary organizations are scrambling to be the next in line. The Patriot Group, mercenaries who are unquestionably loyal to Russia’s Defense Secretary, was sanctioned by the United States in 2023 as a “defense group.” But the Patriot Group may be an umbrella term for several smaller mercenary groups which are virtually unknown.

A more notorious outfit, Rusich, is a “sabotage and assault reconnaissance group,” according to the Russian social media channel VKontakte. The group’s logo incorporates a Slavic symbol with neo-Nazi connotations, and it has allegedly committed war crimes in Ukraine.

Mercenary groups like the Wagner Group, the Patriot Group, and Rusich operate outside the law in what one writer called the “gray zone” between government and non-government groups. In contrast, American private military contractors are directly accountable to U.S. legal authorities. 

Oversight is just one difference between mercenaries and American private military contractors. Injury compensation is another difference. More on that below.

Where American Private Military Contractors Operate

Contractors and mercenaries do have some things in common. Both groups operate in foreign countries where, for one reason or another, a deployment of regular servicemembers would be a bad idea. 

Contractors mean protection and deniability. Contractors have just as much experience and firepower as regular servicemembers. But their deployments do not count in the official tallies. Therefore, contractors operate somewhat under the radar in places like:

  • Iraq: The onetime enemy nation has now become an uneasy ally and an important buffer zone against neighborhood bully Iran. Iraq’s government has made long strides since the U.S. withdrawal. But the war-torn country is still not quite ready to stand on its own, which is why American contractors still operate there.
  • Kuwait: Contractors in Kuwait, along with contractors in Iraq, basically hem in the Iranians. Military contractors in Kuwait are ready to defend American installations there. Service and construction contractors maintain advanced weapons systems and regularly expand physical facilities.
  • Guam: This American-held island has little use for military contractors. But it has a significant need for maintenance and construction contractors as tensions with China continue simmering. In the event of war, Guam would be an important firebase. American contractors help ensure that this firebase is ready to go.

The combination of deniability, fighting strength, and engineering skills make private military contractors an attractive and cost-efficient alternative to regular servicemembers in many parts of the world.

Injury Compensation Available

All these contractor duties are risky. If contractors sustain a deployment-related trauma injury or occupational disease, the resulting medical bills could be extremely high. Medical facilities in less-developed countries usually are not much more than first aid stations. So, injured contractors must go to another country, or even another continent, before the healing process begins.

The Defense Base Act pays all these transportation expenses. The DBA also pays other reasonably necessary hospital bills, doctor bills, physical therapy expenses, and ancillary costs.

The “reasonably necessary” requirement creates many legal issues. A bill is not reasonably necessary just because that is what a treating physician says. Instead, a Defense Base Act lawyer must often partner with an independent physician who makes an independent assessment. Furthermore, to many insurance company lawyers, “reasonably necessary” means “cheapest available.” Only a DBA lawyer clarifies the difference and stands up for victims.

For more information about DBA lost wage replacement, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.