In a surprising turn of events, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner paramilitary group, is to leave Russia for Belarus, putting an end to an armed insurrection that posed a significant threat to the ruling authority.
The deal, reportedly facilitated by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, ensures Prigozhin’s immunity from prosecution and mandates his relocation to Belarus in the near future. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the agreement during a conference call with reporters.
“You will ask me what will happen to Prigozhin himself. A criminal case against him will be dropped, while he will go to Belarus,” the Kremlin official said Saturday, according TASS. “If you are asking me, what are the guarantees that Prigozhin can go to Belarus — that’s the word of the Russian president.”
Despite this breakthrough, many uncertainties persist following the fast-paced events that have unfolded in Russia over the past 36 hours, including the exact whereabouts of the mercenary leader.
Tensions escalated significantly when Wagner troops, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, seized control of key military facilities in Rostov-on-Don and Voronezh, two cities located near the Ukrainian border. Prigozhin demanded an audience with Russia’s Defense Minister and top general, threatening to blockade Rostov and advance towards Moscow if his demands were not met. Videos circulating on social media depicted Wagner Group soldiers strategically positioning themselves in Rostov’s streets, while authorities in Voronezh reported the movement of a military convoy along a major highway. The strategic importance of Rostov and Voronezh, due to their proximity to Ukraine’s Donbas region and position on a primary route to Moscow, added gravity to the situation.
Prigozhin, known for criticizing Russia’s military hierarchy, accused the country’s military leadership of inflicting significant casualties on his mercenary forces in Ukraine, vowing to retaliate and “punish” Russian soldiers.
The Russian Ministry of Defense swiftly dismissed Prigozhin’s claims as an “informational provocation,” while the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, issued a statement accusing Prigozhin of inciting an “armed civil conflict” within the country. The FSB called on Wagner fighters not to obey his orders and instead offered their cooperation in apprehending Prigozhin.
In response to Prigozhin’s declaration of armed rebellion, President Vladimir Putin addressed the nation in an emergency televised address, sternly pledging to punish all those involved in this treacherous act.
“All those who have consciously chosen the path of betrayal, planned an armed mutiny and taken the path of blackmail and terrorism, will inevitably be punished and will answer before the law and our people,” he said, according to the official website of the Russian president.
In order to ensure the safety of Moscow’s residents, the city’s mayor announced the implementation of enhanced anti-terrorist measures, including heightened security checks on roads throughout the capital.
As a result of the armed insurrection, the Russian government forces have reportedly suffered six destroyed vehicles, one damaged, and two captured, including aircraft, helicopters, and armored vehicles. The Wagner Group has also experienced five destroyed vehicles. In addition, the media holding Readovka confirmed the death of 15 servicemen, mostly military pilots.