As part of a compromise to ease tensions surrounding the insurrection, the leader of the private Russian military business Wagner will relocate to neighboring Belarus and the criminal prosecution against him will be dismissed, the Kremlin announced on Saturday.
According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Yevgeny Prigozhin’s men who participated in the rebellion won’t be prosecuted, while those who didn’t would be given contracts by the Defense Ministry.
Following the agreement, Prigozhin declared he was directing his troops to turn back and retire to field camps in Ukraine, where they had been fighting alongside Russian forces, and to stop their march on Moscow.
The agreement looked to solve a rapidly worsening crisis that posed President Vladimir Putin with the biggest test of his over two decades in office.
The agreement was mediated by a close Putin ally and president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko.
The most significant threat to President Vladimir Putin in his over two decades in office was defused on Saturday when a rebellious Russian mercenary commander claimed to have ordered his troops to stop marching toward Moscow and withdraw to field camps in Ukraine.
Moscow has set up checkpoints with armored vehicles and troops on the city’s southern outskirts in preparation for the entrance of forces from the Wagner Group, a private army commanded by Yevgeny Prigozhin that has been fighting alongside regular Russian troops in Ukraine. The mayor ordered the closure of Red Square and advised drivers to avoid certain areas.
Although his forces were only 200 kilometers (120 miles) from Moscow, Prigozhin declared that he had ordered a turnback to save “shedding Russian blood.”
He did not mention whether the Kremlin had complied with his demand to remove Sergei Shoigu as defense minister. The Putin administration did not respond right away.
The change of heart came after a statement from the office of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claiming that Prigozhin and Lukashenko had reached an agreement. According to Lukashenko’s government, Prigozhin consented to halt the advance in exchange for a proposed settlement that included security guarantees for Wagner forces.
Putin had threatened severe repercussions for anyone behind the violent insurrection spearheaded by his former protege, who pulled his men out of Ukraine, took control of an important military site in southern Russia, and moved closer to Moscow.
Putin referred to the uprising as a “betrayal” and “treason” in an address he gave to the country on television.
Putin stated, “All those who planned the rebellion will face inevitable punishment.” The appropriate directives have been given to the military forces and other government organizations.
What Prigozhin may have received from Putin regarding concessions, if any, was not immediately apparent.
If he agrees to Shoigu’s removal, Prigozhin will come out on top and severely damage Putin’s power. Putin might grant Prigozhin more lucrative government contracts similar to those on which he has made his fortune if he eliminates that demand.
It would be difficult and politically unwise for Putin to retract his accusation of Prigozhin’s treachery.
According to some analysts, Prigozhin might give in by bringing the Wagner Group under federal control or by moving the force’s operations back to Africa, where his mercenaries have been active recently.
Early on Saturday, the military command center that oversees Russian activities in Ukraine looked to be under the hands of Prigozhin’s private army in Rostov-on-Don, a city 660 miles (nearly 1,000 kilometers) south of Moscow, according to the British Ministry of Defense.
Following predictions of a violent struggle, cries of “thank you!” and “well done!” could be heard as Wagner troops prepared to retreat in a nocturnal video from the city that was shared on Russian messaging app channels. In earlier footage, some locals could be heard ordering the Wagner mercenaries to leave.
In the Lipetsk province, some 360 kilometers (225 miles) south of Moscow, Wagner troops and equipment were also present.
To increase security and place some restrictions on movement, authorities proclaimed a “counterterrorist regime” in Moscow and the area around it. Soldiers set machine guns, sandbags, and checkpoints on the southern fringes. To halt the march, workers dug up portions of the roadways.
Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, warned that some areas of the city might experience traffic restrictions and proclaimed Monday a holiday for most citizens.
The tragic events occurred exactly 16 months after Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the greatest European conflict since World War II. It resulted in thousands of deaths, millions of displaced people, and the leveling of entire cities.
Ukrainians thought the internal strife in Russia would allow their army to retake land that Russian soldiers had taken.
Putin’s position has likely been damaged even with an agreement, according to Ben Barry, senior fellow for land warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who also noted that “these events will have been of great comfort to the Ukrainian government and military.”
Late on Saturday, just before Prigozhin announced his retreat, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed that the march revealed Kremlin weaknesses and “showed all Russian bandits, mercenaries, and oligarchs” that it is simple to conquer Russian cities “and, probably, arsenals.”
In his daily video speech, Zelenskyy switched to Russian and declared that “the man from the Kremlin” was “very afraid.” He reiterated his demands that the West send Ukraine F-16 fighter planes and ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles.
In response to Prigozhin’s declaration of the armed revolt, Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, demanded his arrest on Friday evening. Whether or not such charges would be dropped was unknown.
The reason for Prigozhin’s fighters’ refusal to submit, according to him, is that “we do not want the country to live on in corruption, deceit, and bureaucracy.”