What Will Happen to Prigozhin and His Wagner Fighters? Here’s What We Know.

Just three days ago, the Wagner mercenary group was advancing on Moscow, and Vladimir V. Putin’s two-decade rule over Russia appeared under threat. Then, in a stunning twist, the uprising’s leader, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, said that he was halting the insurrection and going into exile.

As the dust settles, here is a look at what we know about the situation.

As of Tuesday morning, the most recent photographs to be released of Mr. Prigozhin showed him smiling at onlookers on Saturday as he was driven away from Rostov-on-Don, the southwestern Russian city that Wagner had claimed control over.

At the time those pictures were taken, he was expected to go to Belarus under a deal announced by that country’s authoritarian leader, President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, a loyal ally of Mr. Putin’s.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Lukashenko said that Mr. Prigozhin — a billionaire and himself a onetime friend of Mr. Putin’s — had arrived in the country.

Yet much is unknown about the immediate future of Mr. Prigozhin, not least where he will live, whether he will be free to travel within or outside Belarus and how much clout he will be able to wield as a political figure in Russia.

Perhaps most important, it is not clear how his relations with Moscow — and with Mr. Putin — will evolve. Some previous Putin allies who fell afoul of him have faced the wrath of Russia’s security services.

It is also unclear what, if any, role Mr. Prigozhin will be allowed to play as leader of the Wagner Group, whose fighters were also offered entry into Belarus.

Fomenting rebellion would normally be perilous in Mr. Putin’s Russia, where even modest acts of dissent are harshly punished. But the Russian authorities said on Tuesday that charges of “armed mutiny” against Mr. Prigozhin and the mercenaries were being dropped as part of the arrangement with Mr. Lukashenko.

On Sunday, the Russian state news media reported that Wagner troops had returned to their camps in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, which Russia largely occupies and illegally annexed last fall. At the same time, Mr. Lukashenko said on Tuesday that he was offering Wagner fighters a base to use in Belarus, although it was unclear on what terms the offer had been made, how many of the mercenaries would accept it or what they would do there.

Mr. Putin had said before the attempted uprising that all irregular units fighting in Ukraine, including Wagner, would have to sign contracts with Russia’s Defense Ministry, a move that Mr. Prigozhin cited this weekend as a key motivation behind his rebellion.

Given that, it is unclear how quickly — or even whether — Russia’s military can absorb them into its ranks. It calls into question the willingness of Wagner fighters to serve and potentially die under the new, official structure.

Only when they return to combat in Ukraine will it be possible to assess their continuing morale and drive. Some Ukrainian troops have considered them the best-equipped, most motivated and most tactically aggressive of all the Russian forces.

And Ukraine is just part of Wagner’s portfolio. The group operates in the Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan, and in each country it has offered military assistance in exchange for payment, partly in terms of access to the countries’ natural resources. In Mali, evidence suggests that they participated in a massacre of civilians last year, while in the Central African Republic they are accused by The Sentry, a Washington-based group that seeks to expose corruption, of possible war crimes.

Wagner appeared to operate in Africa on the Kremlin’s behalf, and it is unclear whether Wagner will now press ahead with its contracts on the continent or pull back.

There is no shortage of experts who say that Mr. Putin is a diminished figure because of the uprising, which was perhaps the most public security threat of his rule of more than two decades. Analysts note that, for a leader who strives to project toughness, his vow on Saturday to bring the mercenaries to justice, only to speedily cut a deal in which they will apparently avoid prosecution, made for a noteworthy climb down.

But since then, Mr. Putin has tried to project unity and strength. On Monday, he billed Mr. Prigozhin as a traitor and said that the Russian state had “at all levels” consolidated against the uprising. On Tuesday, Mr. Putin thanked the Russian military for having “essentially stopped a civil war.”

It is not clear how any potential weakening of Mr. Putin’s grip on power might manifest, or how quickly and in what form any challenge to his authority could come.

He is judged in part by Russia’s success, or lack thereof, on the battlefield in Ukraine, and the ability of Moscow’s troops to withstand a Ukrainian counteroffensive that started this month will provide a test of his authority over the military. But Mr. Putin’s principal audience is domestic.

One analyst, Abbas Gallyamov, a former Kremlin speechwriter turned political consultant, said the speech on Monday was an “extremely weak performance.”

That said, after a two-day period during which every hour appeared to deepen Mr. Putin’s peril this weekend, the coming days and weeks could give him opportunities to reassert an aura of stability.

That certainly seemed to be his aim on Tuesday, when he delivered a grandly choreographed speech to soldiers and security troops standing at attention on the Kremlin grounds — a rare public appearance that included a red-carpet arrival.

At the very least, the Wagner Group has faced a turbulent few days. And for Ukraine’s military, whose counteroffensive is gathering steam, that can’t hurt.

The question is how much Kyiv can capitalize on any signs of wavering within the Wagner group’s morale. The fact that some Wagner troops will be brought under Russian military command starting July 1 could shake-up the organization, at least in the short term.

Then there is the question of what happens to the Wagner fighters’ battlefield strength. The mercenaries led the way for Russia in months of fighting for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, suffering tens of thousands of casualties along the way.

It remains to be seen whether that can be reproduced within Russia’s armed forces, who are generally paid less than the mercenary fighters.

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