The Atlas Newsletter - Volume 22

The Atlas Newsletter – World Updates & International News

Monday, June 26th, 2023

Good morning everyone,

“Good news first, the world's in great shape. We've got a civil war in Russia, government loyalists against ultranationalists rebels, and 15,000 nukes at stake.” - Gaz, Modern Warfare, 2007.

We’ve been using part of this quote since we relaunched this newsletter over 22 weeks ago, and now the world has seen fit to make it actually apply in full.

The big news this week is, of course, Wagner Group turning against the Russian government and occupying cities in an attempt to replace the leadership of the Ministry of Defense. While we have articles that dive deeper into the situation here and here, we’ll give you the summary below.

As for the rest of the world, we see that over in Europe, Germany’s nationalist party gains political ground, Greek conservatives take their election, and Erdogan gives Sweden new demands. In the Middle East, the IDF promises to stop settler violence against Palestinians, Russia steps up airstrikes in Syria, and the largest Islamic pilgrimage ever is set to begin. In Africa, the war in Sudan continues, Kenya experiences worsening war crimes, and Egypt hosts India. Then we see in the Americas that cartel violence worsens in Honduras, Brazil meets with the Pope, and a prison riot heightens tensions between rival gangs. In Asia and Oceania, the United States reaffirms it’s commitment to Vietnam and it’s threats to China, Thailand deals with refugees, and the United States sanctions Myanmar.

As Captain Price would say, just another day at the office. Let's dive in:

- Joshua Paulo, Sebastien Gray, Trent Barr, & the Atlas team

Wagner Group Turns on Russian Ministry of Defense

 Sunday, June 25th, 2023: The eyes of the world were very closely watching Russia as what at first appeared to be a significant coup began to unfold, until suddenly it stopped. On June 23, Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin accused the Russian Ministry of Defense of carrying out missile strikes on a Wagner rear camp, specifically accusing Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu of ordering the strikes. With the accusation came a video showing a destroyed forest, a couple of bodies, and, of course, a severed forearm, claiming to show the wreckage from the missile strike. Prigozhin claimed that a "huge number of Wagner fighters have died" due to the strike. Although a number of people have questioned the video's authenticity, the Russian MoD directly accused Wagner of fabricating the video and lying about the strike. Following the alleged strike, Prigozhin vowed revenge and threatened the Russian government. After this declaration, the Russian FSB began preparing a criminal case against him.

"PMC Wagner Commanders’ Council made a decision: the evil brought by the military leadership of the country must be stopped. They neglect the lives of soldiers. They forgot the word "justice", and we will bring it back. Those, who destroyed today our guys, who destroyed tens, tens of thousands of lives of Russian soldiers will be punished. I’m asking: no one resist. Everyone who will try to resist, we will consider them a danger and destroy them immediately, including any checkpoints on our way. And any aviation that we see above our heads. I’m asking everyone to remain calm, do not succumb to provocations, and remain in their houses. Ideally, those along our way, do not go outside. After we finished what we started, we will return to the frontline to protect our motherland. Presidential authority, Government, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Rosgvardia, and other departments will continue operating as before. We will deal with those who destroy Russian soldiers. And we will return to the frontline. Justice in the Army will be restored. And after this, justice for the whole of Russia".

Prigozhin and a very large convoy of Wagner troops armed with tanks and armored vehicles began their "March of Justice", headed from occupied Ukraine to the Russian border. According to Prigozhin, the border guards stood aside as Wagner poured into Russia proper. As they drew closer to the city of Rostov-On-Don, reports began to surface that Wagner had managed to down several Russian helicopters, which has since proven to be true. Wagner marched on and seized the entire city of Rostov without firing a shot. Their tanks lined the streets surrounding the Russian MoD HQ in Rostov, and their infantry were out in force.

Prigozhin at first stated that Wagner would hold the city until Shoigu was handed over to them. However, it was not long before Wagner pressed onward to the North. Closing hundreds of kilometers in mere hours, still with no resistance and without firing a shot, they seized Voronezh. Both Voronezh and Rostov are cities home to over one million citizens. As Wagner drew closer and closer to Moscow, the city began preparing its defenses. Photos and videos can be seen of armored vehicles cordoning off various areas of Moscow as soldiers prepare barricades on the outside of the city.

Putin released a 5-and-a-half-minute video in which he vowed to crush Prigozhin’s revolt, which he referred to as an "armed rebellion". Notably, he compared it to the 1917 Revolution, which took Russia out of the First World War, showing the seriousness with which he was approaching the problem. He called it "a stab in the back of our country and our people". Putin’s threats towards Prigozhin’s rebellion were reinforced by reports that Chechen leader Kadyrov and his forces were leaving Ukraine and on their way to Rostov in order to take back the city.

However, what happened next is a little confusing. As Wagner drew closer and closer to Moscow, coming within 200–300 km of the city, Prigozhin held a conversation with Belarusian President Lukashenko. It is thus far unknown what exactly happened during the conversation or the full extent of what Lukashenko offered to Prigozhin, but Lukashenko soon after stated that Prigozhin had agreed to steps of de-escalation and Wagner had stopped in its tracks. An audio statement made public on his Telegram quickly affirmed the announcement from Minsk.

"They were going to dismantle PMC Wagner. We came out on 23 June to the March of Justice. In a day, we walked to nearly 200km away from Moscow. In this time, we did not spill a single drop of blood of our fighters. Now, the moment has come when blood may spill. That’s why, understanding the responsibility for spilling Russian blood on one of the sides, we are turning back our convoys and going back to field camps according to the plan".

Prigozhin’s criminal case was dropped, and he has effectively been exiled to Belarus. Wagner's convoys turned around; those in Wagner who participated in the rebellion were not to be charged but would be decommissioned and sent home, and those in Wagner who didn’t participate were to be offered Russian military contracts. Significantly, there were no personnel changes in the Russian MoD. Meaning Defense Minister Shoigu, whom Prigozhin accused of ordering the strikes on the Wagner camp, is still right where he was a week ago. It is, as stated, unknown what Prigozhin was offered; however, the Belarusian government did give this statement after Lukashenko’s conversation with Prigozhin.

"This morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin briefed his Belarusian counterpart on the situation in southern Russia with the private military company Wagner. The heads of state agreed on joint actions. As a follow-up to the agreements, the President of Belarus, having additionally specified the situation through his own channels, and in agreement with the President of Russia, held talks with the head of PMC Wagner Yevgeny Prigozhin. Negotiations continued throughout the day. As a result, they came to agreements on the inadmissibility of unleashing a bloody massacre on the territory of Russia. Yevgeny Prigozhin accepted the proposal of the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko to stop the movement of armed persons of the Wagner company on the territory of Russia and take further steps to de-escalate tensions. At the moment, an absolutely profitable and acceptable option for solving the situation is on the table, with security guarantees for the Wagner PMC fighters.
As previously reported, also during today, the President of Belarus held two meetings with the power bloc of the country on this situation".

Wagner has withdrawn from its occupied territories in Ukraine and will be effectively dismantled. With none of Prigozhin's initial demands being met, many around the world are calling into question the true purpose behind Prigozhin’s revolt.


June 25th, 2023 - In a significant development, Germany's nationalist party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), has achieved a notable milestone by winning the lead in a district vote for the first time. The district of Görlitz, located in eastern Germany and historically conservative, saw the AfD emerge as the top party. While this victory signifies a significant achievement for the AfD, it is crucial to recognize that it does not directly translate into nationwide success. Mainstream political parties and civil society organizations have expressed concern about the rise of what they claim are far-right ideologies in Germany. They emphasize the importance of engaging in dialogue and promoting democratic values to counter the influence of such parties. While populist and nationalist-based parties have gained support in Europe for years, the strength of the AfD is particularly sensitive in Germany due to the country's past with the Nazi party and the atrocities of World War II.

June 25th, 2023 - The New Democracy party, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, secured a majority of seats in the Greek parliament, granting them the opportunity to form a government. This electoral success follows the dissolution of the previous parliament due to political deadlock. The New Democracy Party campaigned on promises of economic recovery, job creation, and improved public services. The victory indicates a shift in Greek politics towards a conservative leadership, with the party's win seen as a vote of confidence in Mitsotakis' ability to address the country's challenges and implement necessary reforms.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis greeting supporters as he arrives in Athens for parliamentary elections. (Photo - CFP)

June 24th, 2023 - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan informed NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of new requirements for Sweden’s ascension into NATO. Erdogan told the Secretary General that Turkey was open and optimistic, but Sweden's change to their terrorism laws to meet demands from Ankara was "meaningless" while PKK supporters held protests in the country. The recent change makes it illegal to meet with, provide logistical or financial support to, or even formerly be part of outlawed groups. While many in Sweden have raised concerns that these restrictions limit free speech and make Sweden beholden to the Turkish government, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom hopes the change will grant their nation the security and support of NATO, which needs a unanimous vote to allow a new nation to join.

Middle East

June 24th, 2023 - Israel’s military, police, and domestic security service chiefs released a joint statement following several attacks in the occupied West Bank, declaring they will take action against a number of settler attacks on Palestinians in what they deem "nationalist terrorism". Violence has increased in the region recently, following a string of Israeli raids and the subsequent cycle of retaliation between the factions. There have been several reports from the IDF of Israeli settlers using firebombs and mob violence against villages in the West Bank. Palestinian militias have retaliated with attacks that killed four Israeli civilians and skirmishes with military checkpoints.

June 25th, 2023 - The Turkish-backed White Helmets in Syria report that at least nine civilians were killed and more than 34 wounded after Russian air strikes targeted a vegetable market in the city of Jisr al-Shughour. A local monitor told Al Jazeera that Russian Su-24s targeted Idlib city, Benin, and the al-Arbeen mountain area with five strikes, while an Su-34 bombed the market in Jisr al-Shughour.

Airstrikes in Syria are performed by the Turkish military, Russia-Syrian coalition, and the United States led coalition for their respective factions. (Photo - CNN)

June 25th, 2023 - “This year, we will witness the largest Hajj pilgrimage in history,” declared an official at the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah. Over 2.5 million pilgrims are expected to make the journey to Islam’s holiest site this year as Covid restrictions are fully lifted. In 2020, only 10,000 people were allowed to attend, with 2021 only allowing about 59,000, and 2022 having a limit of one million people.


June 25th, 2023 - Recent fighting between government forces and rebel RSF forces in Sudan has resulted in a significant increase in casualties and the displacement of over 2.5 million civilians. The capital city, Khartoum, has become a focal point of the clashes, with heavy gunfire and shelling heard throughout the city. The United Nations has expressed concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation as access to essential services such as healthcare and clean water becomes increasingly difficult for the affected population. Efforts by regional and international actors to mediate a ceasefire and negotiate a peaceful resolution have so far been unsuccessful, further exacerbating the crisis in Sudan.

June 25th, 2023 - During a rare visit to Cairo, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, with both leaders expressing their determination to enhance their strategic partnership. They reached an agreement to increase Indian investment in Egypt and emphasized "further cooperation in G-20, highlighting the issues of food and energy insecurity, climate change, and the need for Global South to have a concerted voice," according to a statement from Modi’s office. El-Sisi warmly received Modi at the presidential palace and honored him with Egypt's highest accolade, the Order of the Nile, underscoring their shared dedication to strengthening bilateral relations.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi bestows the Order of the Nile medal to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their meeting in Cairo. (Photo - Egyptian Presidency Handout/AFP)

June 25th, 2023 - Terror attacks in Kenya worsen by the day as al-Shabab and their affiliates wreak havoc on civilian populations. The graphic nature of the killings is too much to detail here, but locals have experienced torture and abuse from fighters likely linked to Somali rebel groups. Last week, five people, including a child, were executed in the villages of Juhudi and Salama in Lamu County and their food stolen. Last week in Northeast Kenya, four were killed in a convoy ambush, and eight police officers were killed in a bombing. An additional ten others were killed in separate attacks in the last two weeks. Terrorists demand the withdrawal of Kenyan forces from the peacekeeping mission in neighboring Somalia, a mission the Kenyan government strongly supports.

The Americas

June 25, 2023 - The Honduran government has announced curfews in two cities in the Sula Valley following a slew of killings, kidnappings, and other violent attacks in the area. The curfew was declared after an attack at a Billiards hall in Choloma, where several heavily armed men opened fire on the occupants, killing 11. Sources from Reuters said at least 11 others have died due to separate attacks in the city, leading many to fear for their safety. The curfew was announced by Honduran President Xiomara Castro on Twitter, ceasing all activities between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. in the cities of Choloma and San Pedro Sula. The government has also imposed a cash reward of 800,000 Lempiras ($32,707) "for those who facilitate the capture of the murderers in connection to the Choloma and San Pedro Sula massacres.". The government is reportedly trying to send a proposal to Congress in order to "classify members of a criminal structure, maras, or gangs as terrorists," according to Security Minister Gustavo Sanchez. The minister also added that nearly 1,000 soldiers have been sent to the region in an effort to curb attacks.

June 22, 2023 - Brazilian Prime Minister Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has said he will personally work towards the release of jailed Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Alvarez after meeting His Holiness Pope Francis in Rome last week. During the closed-door discussions, the pair spoke on a variety of issues, including poverty, inequality, the environment, and, most importantly, peace. While the war in Ukraine was not mentioned, Lula had made it clear that an end to the war was one of his top priorities, with both the Vatican and Brazil offering to help negotiate peace. Bishop Alvarez has been imprisoned since February of this year after facing charges of inciting violence, treason, and undermining national integrity after questioning the closure of Catholic radio stations and participating in negotiating an end to antigovernmental protests that shook the nation in 2018. It is unclear if the Pope asked Lula to intervene on behalf of Bishop Alvarez.

Brazilian President Lula receiving a blessing from Pope Francis during their meeting. (Photo - RICARDO STUCKERT)

June 21, 2023 - A Honduran prison riot has left at least 46 dead at a women's prison just 12 miles outside the nation’s capital, Tegucigalpa. Many of the women were reportedly burned to death, while others suffered gunshot wounds. The riot was reportedly planned by gang members with the assistance of prison guards, leading Honduras’ President, Xiomara Castro, to promise "dramatic measures" to address the deaths. Castro has announced that control over the nation’s prisons will pass to the Military Police for the next year, as well as the plan to turn islands off the coast of the nation into a penal colony for "highly dangerous" gang leaders. Castro also extended a state of exception and expanded it to reach additional areas of the country. The exception, which originally took effect in December, suspends some constitutional rights for those who are suspected of gang activity. The riot began when armed members of the Barrio 18 gang held back guards and attacked members of their rival gang, Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13. Julissa Villanueva, head of the penal system, who was removed from her post on Wednesday, claims the riots most likely began in response to a government crackdown on corruption within prisons.

Asia and Oceania

June 25, 2023 - The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) has arrived in Vietnam’s central city of Danang following Hanoi’s protests against Chinese incursions into Vietnamese waters and multinational efforts to deepen ties between the US and Vietnam. A Chinese survey vessel, multiple coast guard ships, and fishing boats were seen operating for several weeks in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, leading Vietnam's foreign ministry to demand that they leave. This is only the third aircraft carrier to have docked in Vietnam since the Vietnam War; however, it is not the only foreign ship to visit the nation in recent times, as both Indian and Japanese warships have both visited prior to the USS Ronald Reagan.

The USS Ronald Reagan underway. (Photo - via Association of Naval Aviation)

June 22, 2023 - Four Thai nationals have been charged with smuggling migrants from Myanmar into Malaysia in connection with dozens of smuggling camps and mass graves. 139 graves were found in 2015 in Wang Kelian, Malaysia, along the border between the two countries, a major stopping point for migrants, most of whom are Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar. The four men were charged in Malaysia under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007 for smuggling two Myanmar nationals, carrying a maximum sentence of 15 years as well as a fine. The men were extradited from Thailand; however, it is reported that the government is awaiting the extradition of at least six others in connection. The Malaysian government has previously found weaknesses on the part of border patrols but concluded that no Malaysian officials or locals were involved in the trafficking of migrant smuggling syndicates.

June 21, 2023 - The United States has imposed new sanctions on Myanmar's defense ministry and banks following the purchase of an estimated billion dollars worth of arms, equipment, and raw materials to manufacture weapons from foreign sources, including sanctioned Russian sources, to support its "brutal repression" of political opponents of the Military Junta, which seized power in 2021, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. The sanctioned banks included state-owned Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank and Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank; however, the Treasury Department has allowed revenue-generating state-owned enterprises, including Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise, access to the international market, which Zaw Min Tun, a spokesman for Myanmar's military junta, claims to be an effort to "cause difficulties in economics and politics." Some experts claim the sanctions may have an impact on the Junta’s ability to fund its war against ethnic groups and insurgencies.

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