Wagner Group to be transformed, its rebellion leaving no gap on front lines

US officials and analysts believe that the Wagner Group's rebellion, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, did not open up any "gaps in Russia's defence" and did not help Ukraine at the front.

According to The  New York Times Ukraine will surely look to take advantage of the chaos caused by Mr. Prigozhin, but there did not seem to be any immediate defensive gaps to exploit, according to American officials and independent analysts.

And Mr. Prigozhin’s march, at least according to a preliminary analysis, did not cause any Russian units on Friday or Saturday to leave their positions in southern or eastern Ukraine to come to Moscow’s defence, American officials said.

While the drama unfolded, there was no letup in the war: Russian forces fired more than 50 missiles across Ukraine before dawn on Saturday.

Prigozhin says he started rebellion to protest Wagner dissolution, not topple government

The Wagner Group's founder Yevgeny Prigozhin published a statement through his press service on June 26, addressing the reasons for starting and abruptly ending his June 23-24 rebellion.

In his first public address since the uprising, Prigozhin said that the mercenary group had marched against Moscow to protest against its imminent dissolution and an alleged attack by the Russian army against Wagner troops.

"The purpose of our march was to prevent the liquidation of Wagner and punish those who made a gigantic number of mistakes during the special military operation (in Ukraine) due to their unprofessional actions," Prigozhin said in a veiled reference to the Russian military leadership, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and General Staff chief Valery Gerasimov.

He said that Wagner had ended the rebellion to avoid further causalities on both sides.

Prigozhin said that, according to an order issued by Russia's Defense Ministry, the mercenary group was meant to be dissolved on July 1 and its staff and equipment would then be transferred to the regular army. However, only 1-2% of the mercenaries agreed to sign the contract with the ministry, he said.

He claimed that Wagner had planned to transfer its military equipment to the Defense Ministry peacefully.

Prigozhin said that the transfer was expected to occur in Rostov on June 30. However, he claimed the plan was foiled after the alleged attack on Wagner troops by Russia's regular army on June 23.

Prigozhin again criticized the military's leadership as unprofessional and incompetent, claiming that Wagner represented the most capable force during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The trigger for the uprising was, according to Prigozhin, a missile strike and a helicopter attack against Wagner positions by the government's forces, resulting in around 30 dead mercenaries. So far, no proof has been presented that the alleged attack occurred.

Prigozhin also said that, during his rebellion, several Wagner mercenaries had been injured. He added that two soldiers from the regular army who joined the Wagner insurrection had been killed.

The Wagner founder claimed that no Russian soldiers had been killed by Wagner troops "on the ground" during the rebellion. He nevertheless admitted the destruction of Russian military aircraft, adding it was in self-defense.

According to Ukraine's Air Force, Wagner shot down six Russian helicopters and one military plane.

Prigozhin justified the abrupt ending to his rebellion by two reasons.

He claimed that the Wagner leaders did not want to shed Russian blood. Secondly, the mercenary group aimed to protest against the group's dissolution, not to topple the government.

"We halted our advance when our assault troops reached 200 kilometers from Moscow, deployed artillery, and conducted reconnaissance of the terrain," Prigozhin said. "It became obvious that a lot of blood would be spilled at that moment. That's why we decided that our demonstration of what we intended to do was sufficient."

He also pointed out that the speed of the "March of Justice" demonstrated Russia's security weaknesses and Wagner's alleged competence, as the mercenaries marched a distance comparable to the one between the northeastern Russian-Ukrainian border and the city of Uzhgorod in the far west of Ukraine.

The rebellion was launched late on June 23. The mercenary group occupied Rostov, a major regional capital, and marched to Kashira in Moscow Oblast before unexpectedly ending the rebellion on June 25.

The event was preceded by a long-standing feud between Prigozhin and Russia's Defense Ministry. Prigozhin has repeatedly criticized the military authorities and claimed that Wagner mercenaries are the only Russian units achieving success on the battlefield.

On June 10, the ministry ordered all "volunteer" units (including mercenaries) to integrate into the regular army by July 1, triggering a backlash from Wagner.

Russian shelling of Nikopol

Russian shelling of Nikopol in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast killed two civilians and injured one more, Governor Serhii Lysak reported on June 26.

"In the afternoon, Russians hit Nikopol with heavy artillery, targeting a private company. Two of its employees were killed – a 51-year-old woman and a 50-year-old man," Lysak wrote on Telegram.

The governor added that another man, aged 49, received injuries and has been hospitalized. According to Lysak, the targeted building was also damaged.

"Again, peaceful residents became victims of Russian aggression. They were simply at work, and we lost them to the inhumanity of the country with which we have the misfortune to share a border," the governor said.

Nikopol lies close to Russian positions across the dried-up Kakhovka Reservoir and the occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and experiences regular artillery shelling by Russian forces.

The reservoir became dry after the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant's dam collapsed on June 6. The Ukrainian authorities say Russian forces blew up the dam to prevent a Ukrainian counter-offensive.