Wagner chief Prigozhin 'halts' Moscow march to 'avoid bloodshed'

Wagner chief Prigozhin 'halts' Moscow march to 'avoid bloodshed'
The New Arab brings you the latest on the standoff between the Russian army and Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who vowed on Saturday to "oust" the Russian military.
16 min read
24 June, 2023

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The leader of the Russian mercenary group Wagner has halted a planned offensive on the capital Moscow to "avoid bloodshed", Belarus's president has claimed, after an armed uprising by in Ukraine and Rostov-on-Don threw the country into chaos.

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said Saturday he had negotiated with Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin an end to the movement of Wagner forces inside Russia in order to deescalate the situation.

"Yevgeny Prigozhin has accepted the proposal of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on stopping the movement of armed individuals from the Wagner group on Russian territory and further steps on deescalating tensions," Lukashenko's press service said in a statement.

It comes after the group seized a key military base on Saturday, just as Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin's vowed to defeat the revolt and head off the threat of civil war.

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The governor of the Lipetsk region, whose capital is just 420 kilometres (260 miles) south of Moscow, said Wagner's private military force was "moving across" the territory and urged civilians not to leave their homes.

In the capital, the mayor urged Muscovites to stay indoors and declared Monday a day off work.

Meanwhile, Ukraine said on Saturday that unrest in Russia spurred by an armed mutiny of the private Russian Wagner group presented an opportunity for Kyiv, weeks after announcing a counter-offensive against Russian positions.

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Earlier on, President Putin has vowed "decisive actions" early on Saturday as a tense standoff unfolded in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, which Russian authorities previously said was "an armed rebellion" by the outspoken mercenary tycoon Prigozhin.

In a five-minute televised address, Putin called the situation in Rostov-on-Don "a stab in the back of our country and our people".


10:39 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Three thousand elite Chechen troops took up positions in Moscow early on Saturday morning to defend the Russian capital against advancing mutineers from the Wagner mercenary group, the Chechen state broadcaster "Grozny" said on Saturday night.

"The fighters have been at their positions in Moscow since early morning and are ready to carry out any order from Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces Vladimir Putin," it said on Telegram.

On Saturday afternoon, Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin agreed to call back his armed convoy approaching the capital with the aim of toppling the military leadership, under an agreement brokered by the president of Belarus.

The feud between Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and Russia's military top brass had boiled over Saturday, with mercenaries capturing a key army headquarters in southern Russia and then heading north to threaten the capital.

Peskov also said it was "out of the question" that Wagner's aborted rebellion would impact Russia's campaign against Kyiv.

10:03 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Militia leader Yevgeny Prigozhin who turned his Wagner force against the military leadership in Moscow, will leave for Belarus and a criminal case against him will be dropped, the Kremlin said Saturday.

"Avoiding bloodshed, internal confrontation, and clashes with unpredictable results was the highest goal," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Under the agreement, brokered by Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko, Wagner fighters will not be prosecuted, Peskov added. "We have always respected their heroic deeds at the front."

"An agreement has been reached that Wagner would return to its bases," Peskov said, adding that those fighters who had not participated in the rebellion would be allowed to formally join the Russian army.

Prigozhin called off his troops' advance toward Moscow on Saturday, pulling Russia back from its most serious security crisis in decades.

8:53 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

The mercenary Wagner group  on Saturday began pulling back fighters and equipment from the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, after its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin halted the fighters' march on Moscow.

An AFP reporter at the scene saw a tank, several cargo trucks and several minivans carrying fighters leave the military headquarters the group had occupied earlier.

Dozens of residents in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on Saturday were chanting "Wagner! Wagner!" outside the military headquarters that had been captured earlier by the rebel mercenary group.

As night fell, dozens of locals gathered near the military office to express support for Wagner, after its chief Yevgeny Prigozhin had said he would stop the group's march on Moscow and turn back.

8:21 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

According to Belarus news agency, the President of Belarus has informed the President of Russia about the results of negotiations with the leadership of PMC Wagner".

Vladimir Putin thanked Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko after the chief of Wagner announced he was turning around his forces, “The Russian president expressed support and thanked the Belarusian counterpart for the work he had done.”

Belarus has in the past been one of the Russia’s main supporters with an active role is Russia’s aggression on Ukraine.  

The chief of the rebel Wagner mercenary force threatened to march on Moscow on Saturday before announcing a stunning pull-back, saying he did not want to spill blood.

7:48 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

According to the United Arab Emirates’ news agency, the UAE is following "with great concern" the situation in Russia and calls for de-escalation and self-restraint. The statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed the need to respect the rules and principles of international law.

The UAE has drawn criticism in the past for failing to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Gulf country is one of Russia’s major allies in the middle east.

7:19 PM
The New Arab & agencies

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for more arms in order to "protect" Europe from Russian forces, amid an armed uprising by the Wagner Group in Russian-occupied Ukraine and parts of Russia. 

The president called for F-16 fighter jets and Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), as Russia heads toward disarray over the division in its armed forces.

"Now is the time to provide all the weapons necessary for defence," said Zelensky.

"The security of Europe's eastern flank depends only on our defence."

7:14 PM
The New Arab & agencies

The leader of the Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Saturday he had ordered his fighters advancing on Moscow in convoy to turn around and return to their bases to avoid bloodshed.

Prigozhin had earlier said that he wanted to oust the army's top brass and "restore justice".

It comes after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he had spoken to the Wagner chief to defuse the situation.

In an audio message released by his press service, Prigozhin appeared to confirm this.

"They wanted to disband the Wagner military company. We embarked on a march of justice on June 23. In 24 hours we got to within 200 km of Moscow. In this time we did not spill a single drop of our fighters' blood," he said.

"Now the moment has come when blood could be spilled. Understanding responsibility [for the chance] that Russian blood will be spilled on one side, we are turning our columns around and going back to field camps as planned."


5:47 PM

5,000 Wagner fighters in convoy approaching Russian capital

A convoy of mutinous Wagner fighters approaching the outskirts of Moscow by road contains about 5,000 men led by senior Wagner commander Dmitry Utkin, a source close to the leadership in the Russian-held part of Ukraine's Donetsk province said on Saturday.

The source, who has proved reliable in the past, said Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin had fewer than 25,000 men at his disposal in total, and that around 5,000 of them were in Rostov-on-Don, the southern city key to Russia's war in Ukraine that Prigozhin said he had taken control of.

The source said Wagner's plan for Moscow was to take up positions in a densely built-up area.

5:36 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Ukraine 'taunts' Russia military over Wagner rebellion

Ukraine's defence ministry taunted Russian troops in the country on Saturday, suggesting they return home to take part in fighting between the rebel Wagner mercenaries and Russia's military.

In a statement the ministry wondered "why Russian soldiers are still sitting in muddy trenches rather than running to the aid of their comrades on both sides of the conflict. That would be far safer than confronting the Ukrainian army."

The Russian mercenary group Wagner, which had been fighting in Ukraine, has revolted against Moscow's armed forces and is bearing down on the capital. Ukraine, meanwhile, is pursuing an offensive to drive the remaining Russian troops from the country.

5:19 PM
The New Arab Staff

Putin signs new law allowing convicts in Russian army

President Vladimir Putin has signed a law allowing convicts to serve under contract in the army during periods of mobilisation, martial law or wartime, the Interfax news agency reported.

The exemption only applies to individuals convicted of carrying out crimes of "small or medium gravity", the report said.

Exempted from the law are those convicted of rape, terrorism, sabotage, the organisation of a sabotage community and participation in it, as well as treason or espionage, it added.

5:10 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Bahrain stresses stability under Putin leadership

Bahrain said it is following developments in Russia and stressed the importance of maintaining stability under "President Vladimir Putin's leadership," the kingdom's foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday.


4:47 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said on Saturday that Moscow would not allow a mutiny led by mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin to turn into a coup or a global crisis, state news agency TASS reported on Saturday.

Answering questions from journalists, Medvedev, 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".

Earlier today, the former leader also called on Russians to rally around Vladimir Putin amid the mutiny by the Wagner Group.


Medvedev was Russian's president between 2008 and 2012 [Getty]
4:29 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Moscow mayor urges people not to travel around Russian capital

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin on Saturday asked people to refrain from trips around the city as far as possible given a counter-terrorism operation had been declared and said the situation was "difficult."

Sobyanin also said in a statement that Monday would be a non-working day - with some exceptions - in order 'to minimise risks.'

He issued the statement as mutinous Wagner mercenary fighters appeared to be continuing to drive towards Moscow from southern Russia.


The Russian capital is under high alert amid the Wagner chaos [Getty]
4:02 PM
The New Arab Staff

Kremlin denies Putin has fled Moscow as plane mysteriously disappears from radar

The Kremlin has denied President Vladmir Putin has attempted to flee Moscow by plane following the unfolding chaos after the private military Wagner company said it wanted to "oust" the Russian military.

One of the several planes that Putin uses for official visits set off from the Russian capital at 14:15 local time, according to Flight Radar.

The plane then went off the radar half an hour later, 150 kilometres from Putin's residence.

However, his spokesperson was quick to refute the claims, saying that the Russian leader was working at the Kremlin amid the ongoing crisis.

FlightRadar data reported that at 15:06 that the plane disappeared from radars near the Tver region, where one of Putin's residences is reportedly located.

3:51 PM
The New Arab Staff

Vladimir Putin reportedly orders Wagner chief Prigozhin's 'elimination'

An independent foreign-based investigative Russian media outlet has claimed that President Vladimir Putin has given orders for Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin to be eliminated.

The Telegram channel of iStories, which is run by former Novaya Gazeta journalist Roman Anin, said on 24 June that it had been told by a source close to the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces that Putin had ordered security forces to eliminate Prigozhin to avoid a confrontation involving Wagner troops in Moscow.


Yevgeny Prigozhin has vowed to 'oust' the Russian military [Getty]
3:47 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Russia imposes travel restrictions on southern Moscow region

Russian authorities in the Kaluga region south of Moscow on Saturday introduced travel restrictions as Wagner mercenary units marched on the capital to oust the country's military leadership.

"Please refrain from travelling by private vehicle on these roads unless absolutely necessary," governor Vladislav Shapsha said in a statement on social media, referring to transport arteries between his region and several others, including those bordering Ukraine.

2:47 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Doha 'concerned' over Russia situation, urges 'maximum restraint'

Qatar expressed its concerns over the situation in Russia on Saturday and called for "maximum restraint" from all parties, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

"The foreign ministry warns that escalation in Russia and Ukraine will have negative consequences for international peace and security and will impact food and energy supplies," the statement added. 


2:26 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

US to 'coordinate' with G7 amid Russia-Wagner crisis

Washington will stay "in close coordination" with its G7 allies amid the unfolding crisis in Russia, where Wagner mercenaries launched a mutiny, officials said Saturday.

"The United States will stay in close coordination with Allies and partners as the situation continues to develop," State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement, adding that support for Ukraine "will not change."

12:55 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

UK government to hold Cobra meeting amid Russia-Wagner crisis

The British government's emergency committee, known as Cobra, is meeting to discuss the ongoing situation in Russia, BBC reporter Laura Kuenssberg said on Saturday.

Kuenssberg interviewed British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak earlier on Saturday, when he said he would speak with allies and urged all parties in the conflict in Russia to avoid harm to civilians.

12:49 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Residents of Russia's southern Lipetsk region told to 'stay home'

Authorities in Russia's southwestern Lipetsk region urged residents to stay at home on Saturday after the Wagner mercenary group vowed to take up arms to topple the country's military leadership.

"To ensure law and order and the safety of the citizens of the Lipetsk region, the operational headquarters of the region asks residents without urgent need not to leave their homes and refrain from any travel by personal or public transport," the press service of the regional government said in a statement on social media.

12:43 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Latvia boosts security on border amid Wagner chaos

Latvia has boosted security on its border with Russia and will not allow Russians to enter amid the current situation, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgards Rinkevics said in a tweet on Saturday.

He added there was "no direct threat to Latvia at this time".


11:42 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Zelensky on Wagner mutiny: 'Russia's weakness is obvious'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday that "Russia's weakness is obvious" and that the longer Moscow keeps its troops and mercenaries in Ukraine, the more chaos it would invite back home.

He made the comments on the Telegram messaging app amid an apparent mutiny on Saturday by Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin against the Russian military.

"Russia's weakness is obvious. Full-scale weakness," Zelenskiy wrote.

"And the longer Russia keeps its troops and mercenaries on our land, the more chaos, pain and problems it will have for itself later."

11:01 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Head of Russia Orthodox Church urges 'unity' amid Wagner turmoil

 The head of Russia's powerful Orthodox Church on Saturday called for unity in the face of an armed mutiny by the Wagner mercenary group.

Patriarch Kirill in a statement said: "Any attempt to sow discord within the country is the greatest crime, which has no excuse whatsoever.

I offer my prayers for the peaceful resolution of the current situation and call on those who have picked up weapons and are ready to use them against their brethren to come to their senses."


Patriarch Kirill is an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin [Getty]
10:59 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Wagner chief says Putin 'deeply mistaken' following 'treason' accusations

The head of the Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin Saturday said Russian President Vladimir Putin was "deeply mistaken" in calling rebelling Wagner fighters "traitors" and ruled out surrender.

"On treason of the motherland: the president is deeply wrong. We are patriots of our motherland," Prigozhin, who launched a mutiny overnight, said in an audio message on Telegram. "Nobody plans to turn themselves in at the request of the president, the FSB (security service) or anyone else."

10:12 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Chechnya's Kadyrov calls Wagner chief's behaviour 'a knife in the back'

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said on Saturday his forces were ready to help put down a mutiny by Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and to use harsh methods if necessary.

Kadyrov in a statement called Prigozhin's behaviour "a knife in the back" and called on Russian soldiers not to give in to any "provocations."


Kadyrov voices his support for Russia's Putin [Getty]
9:41 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Russia briefs ally Belarus on Wagner situation

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday briefed his Belarusian counterpart President Alexander Lukashenko on the situation in Russia, according to a message posted on the Belarusian presidency's official Telegram channel.

Putin has vowed to crush what he calls an armed mutiny after rebellious mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said he had taken control of a southern city as part of an attempt to oust the military leadership.


Lukashenko and Putin are staunch allies [Getty]
9:16 AM
The New Arab Staff

Jet used by Belarus leader reportedly lands in Turkey

A business jet used by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has reportedly landed in Turkey early on Saturday.

The jet took an "unusual route" landing in Bodrum, based on data from flight tracker website radarbox.com.

"Judging by the map, the plane tried to bypass Russia's Krasnodar and Stavropol territories, entered the Caspian Sea space and then reached the Turkish resort via Georgia," Belarusian media reported.

Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko is a close ally of Russia [Getty]
9:10 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Wagner group a 'deadly threat' to Russia: Putin

President Vladimir Putin on Saturday described efforts by the Wagner military group to unseat the country's top brass as a "deadly threat" to Russia and urged the country to unite.

"Any internal turmoil is a deadly threat to our statehood and to us as a nation. This is a blow to Russia and to our people," Putin said in an address broadcast on television, adding: "This battle, when the fate of our people is being decided, requires the unification of all forces and unity."

Putin held a televised address on Saturday morning following the Wagner group's vow to "oust the Russian military" in a shock announcement on Saturday

Putin addressed Russia on state television following the Wagner announcement [Getty]
9:01 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Russia declares 'anti-terrorist operation regime' in Moscow

Russia on Saturday declared an "anti-terrorist operation regime" in Moscow and the Moscow region, after the chief of the Wagner mercenary group vowed to overthrow Russia's military leadership and claimed control of a key military headquarters in the south.

"With the aim of preventing possible terrorist acts on the territory of the city of Moscow and the Moscow region, an anti-terror operation regime has been introduced," the country's national anti-terrorist committee said in a statement quoted by Russian agencies.

The announcement came as Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said he was inside the army headquarters in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don and controlled military sites there.

Russia also declared an anti-terrorist operation in the southern Voronezh region, where some reports said Wagner mercenaries were also headed.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the measure was "aimed at strengthening security."

He also said there was "additional control" on roads and that the capital's mass events may be limited.

8:50 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

UK defence ministry says Russia facing 'greatest challenge of recent times'

Britain's defence ministry said on Saturday said Russia was facing its greatest security challenge of recent times, following what it said appeared to be a move by the Wagner Group mercenary forces towards Moscow.

"Over the coming hours, the loyalty of Russia's security forces, and especially the Russian National Guard, will be key to how this crisis plays out," the ministry said in a regular intelligence update.

"This represents the most significant challenge to the Russian state in recent times," it added.

8:38 AM
The New Arab Staff

Wagner chief vows to topple Russia top brass

The head of the Wagner mercenary group earlier today said he had crossed into Russia and seized control of a key military headquarters, vowing to topple Moscow's military leadership and saying he and his 25,000 fighters were "ready to die".

Yevgeny Prigozhin, 62, said his forces, who have spearheaded much of Russia's offensive in Ukraine, had entered the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and controlled its military sites.

"We are inside the (army) headquarters, it is 7:30 am (0430 GMT)," Prigozhin said in a video on Telegram.

"Military sites in Rostov, including an aerodrome, are under control," he added.

Russia's military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don are a key logistical base for its offensive in Ukraine.