Russian fighter Yevgeny Prigozhin has agreed to leave Russia for Belarus as part of a deal to end his armed rebellion, with charges against him dropped, the Kremlin said.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said fighters from Prigozhin’s army would not be charged “because of their actions at the front”. He added that some Wagner fighters who “came to their senses” and did not participate in the coup would sign a contract with the Russian Defense Ministry.
Prigozhin announced on Saturday evening that the Wagner mercenaries had abandoned their coup attempt just hours before a possible attack on Moscow. This was the first attempted coup in Russia in three decades.
In a deal brokered by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, Prigozhin said his fleet of troops, weapons and tanks would stop their march towards Moscow and return to their bases after a 24-hour standoff in which the Kremlin scrambled to turn the capital into a fortress to fight. away from the rebels.
“Now is the moment when blood may be shed. Therefore, realizing all the responsibility of the fact that Russian blood will be shed on the one hand, we are turning our fleet and going back to our basecamp according to the plan,” Prigozhin said in a voice memo posted on social media.
He did not specify what the “plan” was.
Putin asked Lukashenko to mediate in hopes of avoiding more bloodshed because the Belarusian leader has known Prigozhin for 20 years, Peskov said.
Peskov described Saturday’s uprising – in which Wagner shot down several army helicopters, seized a key military command post and marched most of the way from the Ukrainian border to Moscow – as “extremely difficult” and “full of tragic events”. But he said “there were lofty goals to avoid bloodshed and infighting”.
Putin would not comment further on the incident, Peskov said, adding that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine would continue.
Wagner paramilitaries loyal to Prigozhin began leaving Rostov on Saturday evening, according to state news wire Tass. Videos posted online by state media and Wagner-affiliated social media channels showed the fighters thanking locals, who cheered, clapped and chanted in support.
The governor of a Russian province in the path of Prigozhin’s coup said officials would begin to lift security restrictions.
Lipetsk Governor Igor Artamonov said the region would “start to cancel the restrictions introduced today” and reopen the closed federal highways. He said that they have already started the reconstruction of the damaged roads.
“We all stand up to defend the interests of our country with honor and dignity. The Lipetsk region will not let the President and Russia down,” Artamonov posted on social media.
Putin had earlier vowed to crush the rebellion and accused Wagner of “treason” that posed a “deadly threat to our statehood” compared to the 1917 revolution that led to the fall of Imperial Russia.
Prigozhin’s coup attempt followed months of increasingly bitter fighting between the war chief and leaders of Russia’s armed forces over the 16-month war against Ukraine.
The conflict has failed to achieve its objectives, hampered the country’s economy, cost thousands of lives and created a dangerous patchwork of rival militias and security forces.
Prigozhin had previously said that his Wagner forces no longer wanted to live “under corruption, lies and bureaucracy”.
Lukashenko’s press service said on Saturday that the agreement was reached after the Belarusian leader “agreed on joint actions” with Putin and “further clarified the situation through his own channels” after spending “a whole day” in talks with Prigozhin.
He says that Prigozhin accepted [Lukashenko’s] “A request to stop the movement of the Wagner Company’s armed men on Russian territory and [take] Further steps to control the situation.”
“At the moment, there is an absolutely beneficial and acceptable way of de-escalating the situation on the table, with security guarantees for Wagner’s fighters,” added the press service.
Belarus said Putin thanked Lukashenko. “The President of Russia supported and thanked his Belarusian colleague for his work,” he says.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malier said Kiev’s troops “launched an offensive in several directions at once” on Saturday, apparently seizing the opportunity to counterattack against Moscow’s forces as a power struggle rages in Russia.
“In the direction of Orikhovo-Vasilivka, Bakhmut, Bohdaniivka, Yahidne, Klishchevka, Kurdyumivka . . . progress is being made in all directions,” Maliar said. “The enemy is on the defensive, making great efforts to stop our offensive actions,” she continued. “At the same time, the enemy is suffering significant losses in personnel, weapons and equipment.”
Malier said several Russian attacks in the east, backed with heavy artillery and air power, had been repulsed.
An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky mocked Prigozhin for failing to oust the Russian president.
“The extraordinary choice of Prigozhin . . . You almost overruled Putin, took control of the central authorities, got to Moscow and suddenly . . . You back off,” tweeted Mykhailo Podolyak.
Podolyak predicted that Prigozhin was at risk of being assassinated, saying that “for all the fear the Putin elite has felt in the last 24 hours, this order will certainly be implemented”.
Additional reporting by Christopher Miller and Roman Olerchik in Kiev