It was an interesting day today, when the entire World was looking at the Russia with bated breath. The Wagner Group, and its founder and leader Yevgeny Prigozhin find themselves at the centre of a so-called “coup” in Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an emergency televised address on Saturday (June 24) that an “armed mutiny” by the Wagner Group mercenary force was treason, and that anyone who had taken up arms against the Russian military would be punished.
A Russian security source had previously told Reuters that Wagner Group mercenary fighters had taken control of all military facilities in the city of Voronezh, around 500 km south of Moscow. As per Prigozhin himself, his mercenaries also have control over the city of Rostove-on-Don, approximately 1,100km south of Moscow.
The events had sparked panic in the capital with residents told not to journey around the city. Earlier on Saturday, Vladimir Putin’s whereabouts was thrown into question after an aircraft belonging to the presidency was spotted flying from Moscow to St Petersburg. His spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, denied Mr Putin had fled.
However, in an interesting turn of events, the mutinous Russian mercenary fighters who surged most of the way to Moscow have agreed to turn back to avoid bloodshed, their leader said on Saturday, in a de-escalation of what had become a major challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power.
According to Reuters, the fighters of the Wagner private army run by former Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin were already most of the way to the capital, having captured the city of Rostov and set off on an 1,100 km (680 mile) race to Moscow.
In an audio message, Prigozhin said the fighters would return to base because of the risk of blood being spilled.
A few hours back, the office of Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko, who is a close ally of Mr Putin, claimed on Saturday that he had brokered a deal to de-escalate the situation. Mr Lukashenko claims an agreement has been reached that would “guarantee the safety of Wagner fighters” is on the table.
How it was started?
The conflict between Moscow’s military leadership and Prigozhin, the chief of private mercenary group Wagner, escalated into an open insurrection on Saturday. The Wagner chief accused Russia’s military leadership of killing a “huge amount” of his mercenary forces in a strike on a camp and vowed to retaliate. Security forces have been scrambled across western Russia as regional governors urged residents to stay off the roads, and a “counterterrorist operation regime” was declared in Moscow.
Russia has called this an “armed mutiny” and ordered the arrest of Wagner’s chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, with President Vladimir Putin warning that those on the “path of treason” or armed rebellion will be “punished”.
In an address to the nation, a visibly miffed Putin said the armed mutiny by Wagner mercenaries was a ‘stab in the back’ and that the group’s chief, Prigozhin, had ‘betrayed’ Russia.
“This is a stab in the back to our country, to our nation .What we have been faced with is exactly betrayal. Extravagant ambitions and personal interests led to treason,” Putin said referring to Prigozhin.
“All those who consciously stood on the path of betrayal, who prepared an armed rebellion, stood on the path of blackmail and terrorist methods, will suffer inevitable punishment, before the law and before our people,” he added.
Moments after Vladimir Putin vowed to crush the armed rebellion by mercenaries, the Wagner Group reportedly said the Russian president made the wrong choice during his speech and that the country will soon have a new premier. The mercenaries, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, have claimed control of two Russian cities in their bid to oust the nation’s military leadership and claims to have also downed three military helicopters. The rebel group also said it had faced little resistance from the National Guard as it advances.
World was shaken by the possibility of a Coup
Europe has gone into a huddle with fresh developments in Russia and the possibility of a coup. France has advised against all travel to Russia given the “high volatility” of the military and security situation, its foreign ministry said, reported Reuters. Lithuania and Poland have agreed to pay extra attention on their eastern borders, Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda said in a statement after speaking to Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki.
US President Joe Biden spoke with leaders of France, Germany and the United Kingdom today as the Wagners continue to barrel towards Moscow, the White House said. “The leaders discussed the situation in Russia and affirmed their unwavering support for Ukraine,” a readout said.
However, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the government will not allow the mutiny turn into a coup or a global crisis, according to a report by state news agency TASS. Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said the whole world would be on the brink of catastrophe if Russian nuclear weapons fell into the hands of “bandits”.
How it ended?
It is being said that Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko negotiated with the mercenary boss to stop Wagner’s troop movement after discussing the issue with Putin. He accepted Lukashenko’s offer to halt the Wagner group’s advance and further steps to de-escalate the tensions, Lukashenko’s office said, adding the proposed settlement contains security guarantees for Wagner troops. It did not elaborate.
Prigozhin did not say whether the Kremlin responded to his demand to remove Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu. There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin.
This is undoubtedly the biggest threat faced by the President Vladimir Putin to his rule yet with rebel mercenaries advancing towards the Russian capital after seizing a key military base. It may have ended now, but it is remained to be seen how the incident plays out.