Moscow. In the biggest challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s more than two decades in power, the head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, ordered his fighters to march on Moscow. However, Prigozhin suddenly announced his intention to go into exile and back down following a deal with the Kremlin. However, there was no news of Prigozhin reaching Belarus till Sunday morning. And whether or not Prigozhin will join the ‘Wagner’ fighters in exile and what role he might have there, if any… are still unanswered.
This brief rebellion, however, exposed weaknesses among Russian government forces. Troops of the Wagner Group under the command of Yevgeny Prigozhin were able to unhindered the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and advance hundreds of kilometers towards Moscow. Prigozhin will travel to neighboring Belarus, which has backed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, under an agreement announced on Saturday by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Russia said on Saturday that it would not prosecute Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group and his fighters who have rebelled against the government. Prigozhin, who declared an armed rebellion against Russia, ordered his fighters to march towards Moscow, the capital of Russia. However, he later asked the fighters to suddenly change course.
The Wagner chief said on Saturday that he had ordered his fighters not to advance towards Moscow and return to their base camps in Ukraine to avoid the blood of Russian citizens. This is the biggest challenge President Vladimir Putin has faced in his more than two decades in office. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced on Saturday that Prigozhin would go to Belarus, which has supported Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
The charges against Prigozhin and his fighters for inciting an armed rebellion would be dropped, and the fighters who joined them would not be prosecuted. Peskov also said that the fighters of the ‘Wagner’ group who did not side with Prigozhin in the uprising would be offered contracts by the Ministry of Defense. Earlier, in a televised address to the nation on Saturday, Putin termed the declaration of armed rebellion by the “Wagner Group” as “betrayal” and “treason”. Peskov allowed Prigozhin and his fighters to leave freely, saying that Putin’s “greatest objective” was to avoid “bloodshed and internal conflict, which could have unpredictable consequences.”
After the deal was reached, Prigozhin said he was ordering his troops to stop their march toward Moscow and return to field camps in Ukraine, where they are fighting alongside Russian troops. It is noteworthy that Prigozhin decided to send his fighters back when they were about 200 km from Moscow, so that the blood of the Russian people would not be shed. Prigozhin said his private army, consisting of 25,000 fighters, had decided not to surrender because “we do not want the country to live under the shadow of corruption, deceit and bureaucracy.” Released on the social messaging app Telegram In an audio message, Prigozhin said, “It is wrong to accuse the President of betraying the Motherland.” We are patriots who love our motherland.
Prigozhin said he took the step in response to Friday’s attack on his camps in Ukraine by rival forces of the Russian army. However, Russia’s Defense Ministry has denied the attacks on the camps. A person familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Congress leaders were informed about Wagner’s activities only last week. However, the US had intelligence that Prigozhin had been building up his Wagner Army near the border with Russia for some time. Russian media reported late Saturday that Wagner’s fighters shot down several helicopters and a military communications plane during the short-lived uprising.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden on Saturday spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on the situation in Russia. The four leaders reaffirmed their “unwavering” support for Ukraine during the talks, according to a statement issued by the White House. However, the White House said US officials “wanted to avoid any comments that could be misinterpreted as the United States taking sides in an internal conflict”. warned against trying to take advantage of the uprising led by Prigozhin.
“We warn Western countries against taking advantage of Russia’s internal situation to achieve their anti-Russian goals,” the ministry said in a statement on Saturday. The army will get an opportunity to get back those areas which have been occupied by the Russian army. Shortly before Prigozhin announced the withdrawal, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday the march exposed Russia’s weakness and “showed all of Russia’s bandits, mercenaries, oligarchs”. It is easy to capture Russian cities “and perhaps their arsenal”.
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