Syria brought Wagner fighters to heel as mutiny unfolded in Russia

Syria brought Wagner fighters to heel as mutiny unfolded in Russia

Authorities in Syria and Russian military commanders took swift measures against local Wagner operatives to prevent the mutiny from spreading. These measures included blocking phone lines, summoning Wagner commanders to a Russian military base, and ordering mercenaries to sign new contracts or leave Syria. Syrian authorities were concerned that Russia was distracted by events back home and wanted to maintain control over the mercenary force. The crackdown signaled the end of Wagner’s role in Syria and strained their relationship with the Syrian defense ministry.

The Syrian government, Russia’s defense ministry, and Wagner in Russia did not respond to requests for comment. The mutiny in June, orchestrated by Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, caused concern among senior Syrian military and intelligence officials. They relied on the Russian military presence in Syria and feared that the mutiny could disrupt their partnership.

The presence of the Wagner group in Syria is relatively small compared to the estimated Russian military strength. Russia deployed its military forces and airpower to Syria in 2015 to support President Bashar al-Assad. Wagner has been involved in combat missions and security for oil installations in Syria since then.

For years, Moscow denied any connection with Wagner, but President Vladimir Putin confirmed that the government funds the group. After Prigozhin announced the mutiny, Russian military officers were sent to Syria to take charge of the Wagner forces. Syrian military intelligence cut off communication lines to isolate and control the operatives.

A group of Wagner officers in Homs and other areas were summoned to Russia’s operational base at Hmeimim. It is unclear what happened to them. Wagner fighters in Syria were asked to sign new contracts and their pay was cut. Those who refused were flown out on Russian planes, with some potentially being redeployed to Mali.

Wagner’s presence in Syria has been linked to Evro Polis, a company that profits from Syrian oilfields. The EU imposed sanctions on the firm in 2021. The fate of these commercial interests is uncertain following the Russian defense ministry’s actions against Wagner.

Hmeimim base has served as a logistics hub for Wagner fighters to transit to other locations, including Libya and Africa. The disruption caused by the mutiny could impact Wagner’s operations in these areas. Despite its smaller presence in Syria, Wagner’s role in the war became more apparent over time.

In response to the mutiny, Syria’s leadership reaffirmed the importance of its military alliance with Russia. Syrian first lady Asmaa al-Assad emphasized their solidarity with Russia in their respective wars.

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