By Will Porter / Antiwar
Russia’s Wagner Group has called off its march on Moscow and agreed to stand down after launching a two-day mutiny and seizing a military base in the city of Rostov-on-Don. The Kremlin said it would drop all charges against the company and its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has been guaranteed safe passage to Belarus.
Prigozhin shared a brief audio statement to social media on Saturday confirming his decision to withdraw, saying that the PMC would return to its “field camps” and continue their previous operations in Ukraine “according to plan.”
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“They wanted to disband PMC Wagner. On June 23, we went on a ‘March of Justice’ in a day. We advanced on Moscow just 200km short, and during this time we did not shed a single drop of the blood of our fighters,” he said.
Earlier on Saturday, the Wagner chief announced that his troops had captured the Southern Military District headquarters in Rostov, less than one day after accusing the Russian military of launching a missile strike on a Wagner position and vowing to take his complaints directly to the Kremlin. He harshly criticized the leadership of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, demanding his resignation along with the chief of staff of the armed forces, Valery Gerasimov.
While the full extent of the mutiny remains unclear, unverified videos making the rounds online purported to show active clashes between Wagner and Russian regulars. A Reuters correspondent also said they witnessed a military helicopter firing on a mercenary column driving near the city of Voronezh – about halfway to Moscow from Rostov – but noted that the fighters faced little “substantial resistance” on the road.
The outlet also cited a Russian source who said Wagner troops had taken military installations in Voronezh, though it was unable to confirm the claim.
Voronezh Governor Alexander Gusev was among a long list of local and regional officials to announce stepped-up security precautions amid Wagner’s march, also stressing that Russians would support President Vladimir Putin. The governor of Rostov, Vasily Golubev, similarly declared his region’s loyalty to the leader.
Russian officials announced charges against Prigozhin on Saturday morning, with Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov saying he would be prosecuted for an “attempt to organize an armed insurrection.”
The Wagner chief’s announcement came soon after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed to have successfully mediated talks with the paramilitary head and Putin, a close ally. Prigozhin did not mention the Belarusian leader in his own remarks, however.
“Yevgeny Prigozhin accepted the proposal of President Alexander Lukashenko to stop the movement of the armed men of Wagner in Russia and to take further steps to de-escalate tension,” Lukashenko’s press service said, adding that they “came to agreements on the inadmissibility of unleashing a bloody massacre on the territory of Russia.”
The statement said Prigozhin was offered “an advantageous and acceptable option for resolving the situation, with security guarantees for the Wagner PMC fighters,” but did not elaborate further.
The Kremlin confirmed the negotiations later on Saturday night, with Putin’s top spokesman Dmitry Peskov stating Prigozhin would “go to Belarus” in de facto exile. All charges against him and his fighters would be dropped, he added, and Wagner members who did not take part in the insurrection would be permitted to continue serving under Defense Ministry contracts.
“There was a supreme goal: to avoid bloodshed, to avoid internal confrontation, to avoid clashes with unpredictable results. It was in the name of these goals that mediation efforts were implemented,” Peskov continued, going on to praise Lukashenko’s efforts.
However, he said personnel changes within Russia’s military leadership did not come up during the talks, noting that such decisions are the prerogative of the president and would not be used as bargaining chips to end an armed uprising.
While Putin delivered a national address earlier in the day vowing to crush the rebels, warning that any mutiny would pose a dire threat to the Russian state itself, he appears to have walked back that stance following discussions with Prigozhin.