Update (4:07 p.m. ET):
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov revealed that the criminal case against the Wagner’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, will be dropped. According to Peskov, Prigozhin will head to Belarus, and the fighters who joined him in the rebellion will not face prosecution due to their “service at the front.”
In a surprising turn of events, Peskov also announced that Wagner fighters who did not participate in the mutiny are eligible to sign contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defense. This development marks a significant shift in the tense relationship between Wagner and the Russian government, potentially ushering in a new chapter of cooperation and reconciliation.
Update (1:58 p.m. ET):
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s office announced on Saturday that he had successfully negotiated a deal with the rebellious Russian mercenary leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, of the Wagner Group.
According to the official Telegram channel of the Belarusian presidency, Prigozhin agreed to de-escalate the situation and halt the further advancement of Wagner fighters across Russia.
In a surprising turn of events, Prigozhin ordered his fighters, who had been advancing towards Moscow, to reverse course and return to their bases in an effort to avoid bloodshed.
This decision marks a significant change in the escalating conflict between Wagner and Russian authorities, potentially bringing a peaceful resolution to the shocking rebellion that has put the nation on high alert.
The Wagner Group mercenaries, a private army that once played a crucial role in Russia’s war in Ukraine, has turned against Russian military leadership and President Vladimir Putin in an unexpected and dramatic fashion.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the group’s owner, has issued a direct challenge to the Kremlin, calling for an armed rebellion aimed at ousting Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
In a series of angry video and audio recordings posted on social media, Prigozhin accused Shoigu of ordering a rocket strike on Wagner’s field camps in Ukraine, where his troops are fighting on behalf of Russia. This unprecedented betrayal led Prigozhin to declare that his forces would now punish Shoigu in an armed rebellion and urged the army not to offer resistance.
The Wagner Group’s forces have played a crucial role in Russia’s war in Ukraine, capturing the city of Bakhmut after intense and prolonged battles. While Prigozhin has been known to criticize Russia’s military brass for incompetence and starving his troops of weapons and ammunition, his calls for armed rebellion mark a more direct challenge to the establishment.
A Long-Standing Feud Comes to a Head
Prigozhin’s feud with the Defense Ministry dates back years, and he refused to comply with the ministry’s requirement for all military contractors to sign contracts before July 1.
In a statement issued late Friday, Prigozhin expressed his willingness to find a compromise with the Defense Ministry but accused them of treacherously cheating his forces. He claimed that a rocket strike on their rear camps resulted in numerous casualties among his comrades.
According to Prigozhin, Shoigu personally directed the strike on Wagner Group from the Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don before fleeing. In response, Prigozhin vowed to stop the “evil embodied by the country’s military leadership” and called on the army not to resist Wagner’s efforts to “restore justice.”
Putin’s Response and Anxiety in Moscow
President Vladimir Putin mobilized Russian troops on Saturday to put down the armed rebellion led by Yevgeny Prigozhin. In a somber television address, Putin promised that those responsible for the rebellion would face inevitable punishment and assured his audience that the necessary orders had been issued to the armed forces and other government agencies.
Prigozhin, however, countered Putin’s accusations of betrayal, stating that he and his forces were “patriots of our homeland.” With Wagner forces claiming control of Rostov-on-Don and advancing towards Moscow, anxiety has gripped the city.
Mayor Sergei Sobyanin declared Monday a nonworking day and urged residents to stay home, with the exception of essential workers. Security measures have been reinforced on main highways leading to Moscow and a checkpoint with armored personnel carriers, military trucks, and grenade launchers has been deployed on the southwestern edge of the city.
As the situation continues to escalate, the repercussions of this unforeseen rebellion by the Wagner Group against Russia’s military leadership and President Putin remain uncertain, leaving the nation on high alert.
Wagner Group Advances Towards Moscow
Earlier, the governor of Russia’s Lipetsk province announced that the Wagner Group mercenary group had entered the region. Located about 360km (225 miles) south of Moscow, the Lipetsk region is much closer to the capital than Rostov-on-Don, where Wagner forces appeared during the night.
Governor Igor Artamonov stated on Telegram that authorities “are taking all necessary measures to ensure the safety of the population. The situation is under control.” He did not provide further details about the Wagner Group presence in the area.
Residents in Russia’s southwest were urged to stay at home on Saturday following the Wagner Group’s declaration of armed rebellion against the country’s military leadership. After seizing control of Rostov overnight, Wagner forces have now traveled approximately 500 miles north, advancing towards Moscow.
Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev reassured citizens that Russia would not allow the Wagner mutiny, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, to turn into a coup or a global crisis, according to Russia’s state news agency Tass.
Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s security council, warned of the dire consequences if Russian nuclear weapons fell into the hands of the Wagner Group. “The history of mankind hasn’t yet seen the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons under control by bandits,” Medvedev said. “Such a crisis will not be limited by just one country’s borders; the world will be put on the brink of destruction.”
He added, “We won’t allow such a turn of events.” Known for his hardline rhetoric since Russia sent troops into Ukraine, Medvedev has frequently reminded the West of Russia’s nuclear arsenal to discourage the U.S. and its allies from increasing weapon supplies to Kyiv.
In light of the unfolding situation, the Moscow region has suspended mass events outdoors and at educational institutions until July 1st. The decree, issued by Governor Andrei Vorobyov, applies to the surrounding areas but not the city itself. This follows the mayor of Moscow’s urging for residents to refrain from traveling around the capital.
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