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Wagner Group’s Revolt in Russia Ends After Deal Struck. Here’s What to Know

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This photograph shows two grenade launchers in a car as local residents pose for a photograph with a member of the Wagner group in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia on June 24, 2023.
 AFP—Getty Images

Troops led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, completed their withdrawal from the southern Russian regions of Lipetsk and Voronezg on Sunday. This withdrawal occurred smoothly and without any noteworthy incidents following negotiations between Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russia, resulting in a deal where the Wagner forces agreed to stand down.

Previously, the group had seized control of Rostov-on-Don on Saturday and had threatened to march towards Moscow in an armed rebellion. However, a deal was reached before further escalation could take place. Prigozhin, in an effort to avoid Russian casualties, made the decision to turn back and will now proceed to Belarus as part of the agreement. As part of the negotiations, the criminal case against Prigozhin, initiated by Russia’s national security sector FSB for “organizing an armed rebellion,” will be dropped.

The Wagner troops will not face charges and will be required to sign contracts with Russia’s Ministry of Defense. Prigozhin has also instructed the force to return to their field camps in Ukraine, according to reports from the Associated Press (AP).

Initially, on Friday, Prigozhin had demanded the presence of key military figures, threatening to maintain control of Rostov-on-Don and proceed to Moscow in what he called “a march for justice.” However, on Saturday, the Wagner convoy traveling along a northbound highway unexpectedly halted only 124 miles from Moscow. Prigozhin has long voiced criticisms of the country’s military leadership regarding supply shortages and other failures during the Ukrainian campaign. The situation escalated significantly after the takeover of Rostov.

President Putin initially pledged to suppress the insurgency, denouncing it as a rebellion and a betrayal.

The rebellion by the Wagner group represents a recent blow to Putin’s authority in Russia. His power has already been undermined by the country’s invasion of Ukraine, although Russia refrains from characterizing it as a “war” and instead refers to it as a “special operation.” The Institute for the Study of War stated in a public statement that the Kremlin now faces an unstable equilibrium, and the deal negotiated by Lukashenko is a temporary solution that exposes severe weaknesses within the Kremlin and the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky characterized Russia’s weakness as evident, referring to the turmoil caused by the Wagner group. Zelensky claimed that Putin is “very afraid” of the Wagner group but also acknowledged that Putin himself had created this threat.

After the capture of Rostov, Russian authorities declared a state of counterterrorism, and Wagner fighters were reported to have seized nearby military facilities in the city of Voronezh. Residents were advised to avoid travel and stay at home. The Wagner forces, numbering around 25,000, did not initially stand down despite appeals from military generals on Friday. Prigozhin asserts that his forces took over Rostov without firing a single shot. He previously stated that Wagner fighters would not surrender, emphasizing a desire to eliminate corruption, deceit, and bureaucracy from the country.

According to the AP, Russian media reported that Wagner’s troops moved towards the capital with little hindrance and downed several helicopters and a plane.

Prigozhin enjoys significant public support in Russia, and the country has come to rely on his mercenaries during the war. He maintains that his grievances are not directed at the president’s leadership. However, Putin is treating the crisis seriously, delivering a five-minute televised speech on Saturday condemning Wagner’s actions.

The international response to the crisis has been notable. The U.S. and the U.K. are closely monitoring the situation, with the U.K. describing it as the most significant challenge to the Russian state in recent times. President Biden held discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, reaffirming their support for Ukraine in the ongoing war. Russian officials cautioned Western countries against exploiting the crisis to further their anti-Russian agendas.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered Putin Turkey’s assistance in seeking a peaceful resolution before the Wagner convoy halted. Iranian officials recognized Russian rule of law and considered the events in Russia as an internal matter.

Latvia, located west of Russia, tightened border security following the outbreak of the conflict. The Latvian foreign minister announced a halt to the admission of Russians into the country. Several countries, including the Czech Republic, Israel, and Estonia, advised their citizens to reconsider travel to Russia.

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