The greatest challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin in his more than two decades in power fizzled out relatively peacefully Saturday.The rebellious Wagner mercenary leader who ordered his troops to march on capital of Russia abruptly reached a deal with the Kremlin to go into exile and sounded the retreat.
The dramatic if brief revolt shifted the landscape for the Kremlin and the 16-month-old war in Ukraine.That prompted Russia to pull soldiers back from the battlefield to defend the capital. A stunning recognition of the threat posed by Wagner Group soldiers under the command of Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Under the deal announced by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Prigozhin will go to neighboring Belarus and charges of mounting an armed rebellion will be dropped. The government said it also would not prosecute fighters who took part. Meanwhile, those who did not join in were to be offered contracts by the Defense Ministry.
Putin’s Response and Consequences:
Putin had vowed earlier to punish those behind the armed uprising led by his onetime protege. The Wagner group seized a key military facility in southern Russia before advancing on the capital. In a televised speech to the nation, he called the rebellion a “betrayal” and “treason.”
In allowing Prigozhin and his forces to go free, Peskov said. Putin’s “highest goal” was “to avoid bloodshed and internal confrontation with unpredictable results.”
Moscow had braced for the arrival of the Wagner forces by erecting checkpoints with armored vehicles and troops on the city’s southern edge. Red Square was shut down. The mayor urged motorists to stay off some roads.
About 3,000 Chechen soldiers were pulled from fighting in Ukraine and rushed there early Saturday. State television in Chechnya reported. Moreover, signaling the Kremlin’s desperation as the Wagner troops advanced to. According to Prigozhin, just 200 kilometers (120 miles) from Moscow.
Wagner Group Commander Demands Defense Minister’s Ouster
But after the deal was struck, Prigozhin announced that he had decided to retreat to avoid “shedding Russian blood.” His troops were ordered back to their field camps in Ukraine.Where they have been fighting alongside Russian regular soldiers.
Prigozhin has demanded the ouster of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Long the target of his withering criticism for his conduct of the war in Ukraine. On Friday, he accused forces under Shoigu’s command of attacking Wagner camps and killing “a huge number of our comrades.”
However, Prigozhin did not say whether the Kremlin had responded to his demand. Peskov said the issue could not have been discussed during the negotiations. Those were conducted by the president of Belarus. Moreover, it is the “exclusive prerogative of the commander in chief.”