The biggest challenge for the president of Russia, Vladimir Putinin his more than two decades in power faded after the rebel mercenary commander who had ordered his troops to march on Moscow will reach a sudden agreement with the Kremlin to go into exile and order the withdrawal.
However, the brief revolt exposed vulnerabilities in Russian government forcessince the mercenaries of the wagner group in command of Yevgeny Prigozhin arrived unopposed as far as the Russian city of Rostov of the Don and advanced hundreds of kilometers in the direction of Moscow. The Russian armed forces rushed to defend the Russian capital.
According to the agreement that the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskovannounced on Saturday, Prigozhin will go into exile in neighboring Belarus, which has supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The charges against Prigozhin to organize an armed rebellion will be withdrawn.
The government also said that will not prosecute Wagner’s paramilitaries who have participated in the uprising and the Ministry of Defense will offer contracts to those who did not. Prigozhin’s troops have been ordered to return to their camps in Ukraine, where they have been fighting alongside regular Russian soldiers.
Putin had earlier announced that he would punish those responsible for the military uprising led by his former protégé. In a televised address to the nation, Putin described the rebellion as a “betrayal”.
Allowing Prigozhin and his forces to go unpunished, Peskov said Putin’s “ultimate goal” was “avoid bloodshed and internal confrontation with unpredictable results”.
Putin risks appearing weakaccording to analysts.
“Putin was forever diminished by this affair”, said the former US ambassador to Ukraine john herbst to the chain CNN.
Moscow had prepared for the arrival of Wagner’s forces by erecting checkpoints with armored vehicles and troops on the southern edge of the city. Some 3,000 Chechen soldiers were withdrawn from the fighting in Ukraine and transferred to Moscow in the early hours of Saturday, according to state television in Chechnya.
Russian troops armed with submachine guns maintained checkpoints on the southern outskirts of Moscow. Potholes were also dug into sections of the roads to slow down the mercenaries’ advance.
Wagner’s forces came to barely 200 kilometers (120 miles) from Moscow, according to Prigozhin. But after finalizing the agreement, the rebel leader announced that he had decided to withdraw to avoid “shedding Russian blood”.
Prigozhin has demanded the dismissal of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, whom he had long criticized harshly for his management of the war in Ukraine. On Friday he accused forces under Shoigu’s command of attacking Wagner’s camps and killing “a large number of our comrades.”
Accepting Shoigu’s removal could be politically damaging to Putin after branding Prigozhin a traitor.
It’s been a while since he wagner group amassed troops near the Russian border, according to US intelligence. That clashed with the claims of Prigozhin that his rebellion was responding to an attack on Friday of Russian army against their positions in Ukraine.
Announcing his rebellion, Prigozhin accused Russian forces of attacking Wagner camps in Ukraine with rockets, helicopters and artillery. He claimed that the general Valery Gerasimovchief of the General Staff, ordered the attacks after a meeting with Shoigu in which they decided to destroy the military contractor.
The Russian Defense Ministry denied attacking the camps.
Leaders of United States Congress They received a briefing on Wagner last week, according to a person familiar with the matter. The source was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke with Associated Press under condition of anonymity. CNN first reported the intelligence gathering in the United States.
One possible motivation for the rebellion was the demand of the Russian Ministry of Defense, backed by Putin, for private companies to sign contracts with the Ministry by July 1. Prigozhin had refused to do so.
“It could be that he attacked now because he saw that deadline as a danger to his control over his troops.”Herbst wrote in an article for the Atlantic Council.
In the early hours of Saturday, Prigozhin’s private army appeared to be in control of the Rostov-on-Don military headquartersa city located just over 1,000 kilometers south of Moscow and from where Russian operations in Ukraine are directed, according to the British Ministry of Defense.
Russian media said that the mercenaries had shot down several helicopters and a military communications plane. The Defense Ministry did not comment on those reports.
Following the deal that eased tensions, a video from Rostov-on-Don posted on Russian channels in a messaging app showed people cheering Wagner’s troops as they left. Prigozhin was riding in a van followed by a large truck, and people were waving at him, while others ran to shake his hand. The regional governor later said that all the troops had abandoned the city.
There were also Wagner troops and equipment in the Lipetsk provinceabout 360 kilometers (225 miles) south of Moscow.
The mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanindeclared Monday as Holiday for most residents within security measures, a decision that remained in effect even after the withdrawal.
The Ukrainians, for their part, hoped that internal Russian divisions would create opportunities for their army to recapture territory taken by Russian forces.
Ben Barry, a ground warfare expert at the International Institute for Strategic StudiesHe said that even with a deal, Putin’s position would likely have been weakened and “these developments will have been a great comfort to the Ukrainian government and military.” Even after the deal, Putin’s position is likely to have been weakened.
Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky said late on Saturday, shortly before Prigozhin announced his withdrawal, that lThe march revealed the weakness of the Kremlin and “proved to all Russian bandits, mercenaries and oligarchs” that it is easy to capture Russian cities “and, probably, arsenals.”
Wagner’s troops have played a crucial role in the 16-month-old war in Ukraine, capturing the eastern city of Bakhmut, an area where the bloodiest and longest-running battles have been fought. But Prigozhin has been increasingly critical of the military leadership, which he accuses of incompetence and ripping off ammunition for his troops.
Prigozhin, a 62-year-old ex-convict, has long-standing ties to Putin and landed lucrative Kremlin hospitality contracts that earned him the nickname “Putin’s chef.”
He and a dozen Russian citizens were indicted in the United States for running a covert social media campaign to foment discord ahead of Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election. Wagner has sent military contractors to Libya, Syria, several countries Africans and later to the Ukraine.
(With information from The Associated Press)
The chaos unleashed by the Wagner Group in Moscow poses opportunities for Ukraine: “Russia’s masters control nothing”
The Wagner rebellion left Putin weakened to continue his war in Ukraine
Crisis in Russia: the threat of the paramilitaries of the Wagner Group revived fears about the security of the nuclear arsenal