Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed his continuing concern over the potential threats that the Wagner Group and Yevgeny Prigozhin may pose to him through symbolism and posturing during a meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in St. Petersburg, Russia.Putin made several significant symbolic gestures during his July 23 meeting with Lukashenko, suggesting that Putin sought to project power and confidence in his own supremacy over the Prigozhin-aligned St. Petersburg-based faction. Putin took Lukashenko to visit Kronstadt in St. Petersburg – the historically significant island fortress where Russian soldiers and sailors conducted a famous unsuccessful anti-Bolshevik insurrection in early 1921 that the Soviet government ultimately suppressed. Putin and Lukashenko toured Kronstadt with St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s younger daughter Ksenia Shoigu. Both Beglov and Shoigu are personal enemies of Prigozhin, and Putin‘s public meeting with Beglov, Shoigu‘s daughter, and Lukashenko on the historic grounds of the failed Kronstadt rebellion was almost certainly intended to signal Putin’s and his loyalist cadre‘s defeat of Prigozhin‘s armed rebellion and Prigozhin’s St. Petersburg-based supporters. Putin also made an unusual effort to take photographs with crowds of local Russian citizens, including children, while at Kronstadt, likely to present himself as a popular and beloved leader among the Russian people. These symbolic gestures indicate that Putin is concerned about his perceived popularity, the security of his regime, and the array of factions competing for power within the high echelons of Russian governance.
Lukashenko told Putin that the Wagner Group in Belarus will remain in central Belarus likely subtly reminding Putin of the threat the Wagner military organization still poses to him and underlining Lukashenko’s control over that power. Lukashenko’s statements were likely meant to make Putin reflect on the uncomfortable (for Putin) fact that Wagner’s new garrison in Belarus puts its forces half as far from Moscow as Wagner’s previous base in southern Russia. The Wagner Group’s previous base in Krasnodar Krai was about 1,370 km from Moscow, whereas its new base in Belarus is about 720 km along an excellent military highway.
Putin and Lukashenko also amplified information operations targeting the West. The leaders amplified their false claims that Ukraine’s counteroffensive has failed. Senior Western and Ukrainian leaders–and ISW–continue to assess that it is too early to evaluate Ukraine’s counteroffensive since Ukraine still has significant uncommitted prepared forces and retains the ability to launch decisive operations at times and places of its choosing. Lukashenko and Putin also reiterated an information operation that the Wagner Group poses a threat to Poland. There is no indication that Wagner fighters in Belarus have the heavy weaponry necessary to mount a serious offensive against Ukraine or Poland without significant rearmament, as it was a condition of the Putin-Lukashenko-Prigozhin deal ending the armed rebellion that Wagner surrender such weapons to the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD). Maxar imagery of the main Wagner base in Tsel, Asipovichy, collected at an oblique angle on July 23 indicates that the vehicles currently parked in and around the vehicle storage area are primarily hundreds of cars, small trucks, and approximately 35 semi-trailers. Wagner forces in Belarus pose no military threat to Poland or Ukraine, for that matter, until and unless they are re-equipped with mechanized equipment. They pose no meaningful threat to NATO even then.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed his continuing concern over the potential threats that the Wagner Group and Yevgeny Prigozhin may pose to him through symbolism and posturing during a meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in St. Petersburg, Russia.
- Lukashenko told Putin that the Wagner Group in Belarus will remain in central Belarus likely subtly reminding Putin of the threat the Wagner military organization still poses to him and underlining Lukashenko’s control over that power.
- Putin and Lukashenko also amplified information operations targeting the West.
- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN on July 23 that Ukrainian forces have liberated approximately 50 percent of the territory that Russian forces captured since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.
- Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front line and advanced on July 23.
- Russian forces conducted another series of missile strikes against port infrastructure and the city center in Odesa City overnight on July 22 to 23, severely damaging civilian areas.
- Further speculation about former Russian officer and ardent nationalist Igor Girkin’s arrest and the public posturing of Girkin’s affiliates suggests that a limited section of the pro-war community may have been contemplating political action in opposition to the Kremlin.
- Angry Patriots members likely view Girkin’s arrest as an existential threat to the segment of the ultranationalist community he represents and will likely intensify their campaign to cast Girkin as an opposition figure.
- The Kremlin may be attempting to censor an isolated segment of the Russian ultranationalist community that is consistently vocally hostile to the Kremlin.
- The head of one of the largest suppliers of surveillance equipment to Russian special services died on July 22.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line and reportedly made tactically significant gains.
- Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line and in the Bakhmut area, and reportedly made gains near Bakhmut.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka-Donetsk City areas but did not advance.
- Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations in the western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhia oblasts border area and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks in the western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhia oblasts border area.
- The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) continues to recruit prisoners to fight in Ukraine.
- Russian occupation authorities are bringing foreign citizens to occupied Ukraine to artificially alter demographics.