Rebel Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Saturday evening that his mercenary group will halt its march on Moscow to avoid a bloodshed.
On Friday night, Prigozhin had declared war on Moscow’s own defense ministry and in the early hours of Saturday his troops moved on to the capital after capturing the city of Rostov in the south and passing through Voronezh.
Russian army helicopters open fire on a Wagner convoy. Reports of machine gun positions & trenches set up around Moscow. Explosion & oil depot blaze in Voronezh. COBRA emergency meeting called in UK
Putin's speech reveals turmoil in Kremlin. Ukraine observes Russia's internal… pic.twitter.com/F0p40mQnel
— Nabila Jamal (@nabilajamal_) June 24, 2023
At the time of his decision for de-escalation, the convoy and fighters of the Wagner private army were just 200 km from Moscow, according to Prigozhin.
The capital had been bracing for Wagner troops’ arrival with the introduction of a counter-terrorism regime, while citizens were advised to avoid all unnecessary travel and all mass outdoor events were cancelled until July 1.
Wagner rebel mercenaries halt march on Moscow
Prigozhin has contended that his move was intended to remove incompetent Russian military officers he blames for botching the war in Ukraine, but he denied attempting a coup.
“They wanted to disband the Wagner military company. We embarked on a march of justice on June 23. In 24 hours we got to within 200 km of Moscow. In this time, we did not spill a single drop of our fighters’ blood,” the Wagner chief said in an audio message on his Telegram channel.
“Now the moment has come when blood could be spilled. Understanding responsibility that Russian blood will be spilled on one side, we are turning our columns around and going back to field camps as planned.”
The decision to halt further movement across Russia by the Wagner group was brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in return for guarantees for the mercenaries’ safety, after discussing the issue with Putin, Reuters reports.
It remained unclear though whether the Kremlin had responded to Prigozhin’s demand to oust Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Zelenskyy’s reaction to Wagner Group rebellion in Russia
Russian state-owned news agency Tass reports that Wagner troops had started to leave Rostov on Saturday night, in what appeared to confirm that Wagner’s rebellion had come to an end.
Nonetheless, James Nixey, head of the Russia-Eurasia programme at Chatham House, told the BBC that Ukraine will profit from the crisis in Russia and likely continue to “needle Russia” to try to create implosions within the country.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wrote on Twitter that the Wagner rebellion exposed complete chaos in Russia.
“Today the world saw that the bosses of Russia do not control anything. Nothing at all. Complete chaos. Complete absence of any predictability. And it is happening on Russian territory, which is fully loaded with weapons.”