Authorities in Syria and Russian military commanders took swift measures against local Wagner operatives to prevent an uprising in Russia from spreading to the Middle Eastern nation, six sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters, after mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhinordered his men to march on Moscow last month.
The crackdown included ordering mercenary fighters to sign new contracts with the Russian defence ministry or promptly leave Syria, Syrian officials and other sources based near deployed Russian forces said.
Damascus did not publicly comment on the June 23-24 Wagner mutiny, in which Prigozhin ordered his men fighting for Russia in Ukraine to march on the Russian capital before a deal brokered by Belarus saw them turn back.
As they watched events unfolding, senior Syrian military and intelligence officials privately voiced concern that the mutiny could disrupt the Russian military presence they had relied on for so long, according to a senior Syrian Republican Guard officer and a Syrian source briefed on developments.
Russia deployed its military forces and, crucially, its airpower to Syria in 2015, helping President Bashar al-Assad beat back rebels intent on toppling him. Wagner has since been involved in combat missions and security for oil installations in Syria, with the first suspected Wagner deaths there reported as early as 2015.
“Assad was counting on strengthening his alliance with Prigozhin and was considering increasing the number of fighters considerably to help him retake western Syria,” Karam Shaar, senior fellow at the New Lines Institute, told Al Jazeera.