Yevgeny Prigozhin’s career stopped 200 kilometers from Moscow. After months of increasingly vehement criticism of military institutions, Chief Wagner launched the challenge directly to Vladimir Putin by penetrating Russian territory with his militia seemingly and incredibly without encountering any resistance. Even in the evening, he announced his withdrawal “to avoid a Russian bloodbath.”
For Russia, and for the world, it was a tragic day when the country looked as if it could plunge into civil war. In a speech to the nation earlier this morning, the Kremlin chief called Prigozhin’s action a “stab in the back” for the forces fighting in Ukraine. The intelligence services accused him of starting an “armed civil conflict”. He has not said exactly what he wants, but few believe in individual action, while many observers say they are convinced a political showdown is at stake in which Prigozhin is merely a pawn.
After accusing the Moscow army of bombing the positions of its men yesterday evening, Wagner’s chief announced this morning that he had captured the city of Rostov-on-Don, the most important center close to the Ukrainian border, and had taken it without firing. Airport, military headquarters and headquarters of the FSB internal intelligence. The situation gradually became more dramatic as the hours passed, as local authorities began to report that just over 20,000 Wagner militiamen had advanced north without anyone intervening. First the Voronezh province, then the Lipetsk province, 450 kilometers south of Moscow. In the evening, when the capital now seemed to be on the horizon, was the detour.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko negotiated “all day and in agreement with Putin” whereby Wagner’s chief would be given “fully acceptable and useful guarantees” in exchange for his men’s withdrawal. With Prigozhin himself immediately announcing the conversion and the return of the militiamen to their base camps in the south of the country. The guarantees later announced by the Kremlin itself embodied in the assurance that the Wagner fighters will not be criminally prosecuted and that the criminal investigation against Prigozhin will be suspended, who will go to Belarus again according to the Kremlin who made sure to specify how the failed rebellion “will not affect in any way” On the Russian offensive in Ukraine.
By mid-morning, Putin appeared on television for no more than five minutes, accusing his (former?) ally of “betrayal” for the sake of his personal ambitions. The president, who seemed to indicate the possible role of others besides Prigozhin, warned, “Whoever chooses the path of treachery will be punished and held accountable.” The latter responded by saying that Putin was “deeply mistaken”, warning that none of his men should surrender. After that, some sites spread rumors that Putin had fled Moscow, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov completely denied this.
Authorities suspended Wagner’s social media accounts, but not Telegram, where Prigozhin continued undisturbed to release his statements. Not against Putin personally, but against Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov. While the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, confirmed that he was ready to put his forces at the disposal of “crushing” the rebellion. Throughout the day, tension was growing in Moscow at the prospect of Wagner’s arrival. Police forces spread nerves. The city center, while videos broadcasted by Telegram channels showed armored vehicles entering the capital from the south, and Mayor Sergey Sobyanin called on residents to limit travel and announced that Monday would be a day off. He warned Western countries against exploiting the crisis to “achieve their Russophobic goals,” and reaffirmed that the process in Ukraine continues and that “all goals will be achieved.” Putin once again thanked Lukashenko for the mediation and the “work done”.
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