04 Jul Tracking State Reactions to the Wagner Mutiny in Russia
On June 24, 2023, members of the Wagner mercenary group staged an armed revolt against Russian President Vladimir Putin and began an advance on Moscow that ended suddenly, after intervention and mediation by Belarusian President Lukashenko, on the same day. In this post, I present, analyse and systematise the statements and reactions of fifty-nine states.
Before we start, let me address some methodological matters. I have organised the reactions into four categories: (1) Pro-Russia; meaning that the state issued a statement critical of Wagner’s actions or showing concern/support for Russia in its time of need. (2) Hawkish; meaning that the state seized the opportunity to rattle Putin’s cage or make the case for the escalation of the West’s efforts to support Ukraine. (3) Neutral; meaning the state simply expressed concern or that it was following the events in Russia closely, without making any evaluation as to their convenience or inconvenience. (4) Domestic Concerns; meaning that the state did not really focus on Russia or the mutiny itself, but rather how this would affect its own relations with the Wagner group or their national security.
As always, there are limitations inherent to these categories and a significant amount of nuance and subjectivity goes into each classification. This is part of the reason why I am attaching a chart with all the statements for readers to draw their own conclusions. It was particularly difficult to even come up with the term “hawkish”. The problem was that this category encompasses various forms of behaviour. From the Baltics announcing that if the mutiny generates a refugee crisis they will not issue humanitarian visas for displaced Russian citizens to the Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs tweeting that he had now started planning holidays in Crimea.
In terms of the statements themselves, it is interesting to note how many states’ initial reaction was Neutral and then evolved into Hawkish as events unfolded. Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Luxembourg, Portugal, and the United Kingdom all followed this trend of having a measured initial response, followed by more hawkish statements as the situation became clearer. This may have also been the result of timing. The mutiny happened on a Saturday and many states may have waited until Monday to make a more definite announcement, when they were going to meet at the 2023 EU Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg. The interview format also allowed for more hawkish language than written-form statements.
In terms of who issued what kind of statements, once again, just like it happened with the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam, the closer to Russia, the more likely that the language used was hawkish. This was the case with Czechia, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Slovenia, and Ukraine. Uncharacteristically, some Western European states issued more hawkish statements when, in the past, they have released more moderate ones (Austria, Denmark, Germany, and the UK), but again this may be because of the format the comments were provided in. Some Eastern European states did the opposite, issuing Neutral statements when in the past they had been more Hawkish. This is the case with Croatia, Georgia, North Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, and Slovakia, which were rather Hawkish when it came to condemning the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam but particularly Neutral when it came to Wagner’s mutiny, perhaps reflecting the geopolitical uncertainty that came with the prospects of a coup in Russia.
Another interesting aspect was that many states, regardless of whether they were Pro-Russian, Hawkish, or Neutral, declared the mutiny to be a matter of “internal affairs” of Russia. This was particularly noteworthy in states that are traditionally close to Russia, but remained Neutral throughout the crisis (Armenia, Iran, and Kazakhstan) or issued very weak Pro-Russian statements (China).
Another interesting fact is that only two states, Bahrain and Belarus (which issued a whopping six statements, including one to troll Elon Musk), issued Pro-Russian statements while the mutiny was ongoing. The Bahraini statement was also rather weak (and came out exactly 5 minutes before the Belarusian deal was struck), stressing “the importance of preserving stability in the Russian Federation under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, in a way that preserves security and stability for the friendly Russian people”. In other words, it was more concerned with Russia’s stability (going as far as mentioning it twice!) than with its friendship with Russia. All other Pro-Russian statements came out after the deal had already been signed, at 9:00pm Belarusian time. Brazil’s came out two days late, on the 26th (and from President Lula’s Special Advisor, not the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), same as North Korea’s and Syria’s. China and Cuba issued theirs on the 25th. Mali and Saudi Arabia waited until the 27th, three days after the events had passed. The case of Venezuela is also rather singular. They posted their statement to Twitter at 9:07 Belarussian time, exactly seven minutes after the deal was struck and thirty-six minutes before it was announced on Twitter. It is of course impossible to know if they had advance knowledge of the deal or not, but regardless of this, it is interesting to note that the only country that immediately rallied in defence of Putin while the stakes were high was Belarus.
Finally, and uncharacteristically, four African states issued statements. Kenya issued a Neutral one, Mali supported Russia, and the Central African Republic and Libya issued statements on how the coup could affect their own ongoing relations with the Wagner Group.
I hope this post and its accompanying materials are of use for researchers. I will continue to track major events in the War in Ukraine going forward. For now, you can find the infographic and chart ready for download below.
To download the Chart, click here.
To download the Infographic, click here.