Wagner makes Moscow tremble
Never before in 23 years of power has Russian President Vladimir Putin been in such a delicate situation. For years the Kremlin had protected the private military company Wagner, whose mercenaries had defended Russian interests in African countries, Syria and the Donbass with weapons. But the head of this mercenary army, the businessman Yevgueni Prigozhin, has turned against his former ally. On Friday he called for a rebellion against the military chiefs and this Saturday his men, 25,000 according to him, took control of Rostov-on-Don, the headquarters of the southern command of the Russian army, and headed towards Moscow, about a thousand kilometers to the north. Russia held its breath for almost 24 hours, until the mediation of Alexander Lukasehnko, an ally of Putin, seems to have unblocked the mess. Then the Kremlin announced that Prigozhin will go to Belarus.
The Government of Belarus announced late this Saturday that Prigozhin had accepted "the proposal of the Belarusian president," the Belta agency reported.
Prigozhin, who had warned an hour before "we are not going to give up", confirmed in an audio message on Telegram that his men, already 200 kilometers from the Russian capital, were turning around. "Understanding the full responsibility for spilling Russian blood on one side, our columns turn around and return to our bases according to plan," he explained.
A respite for the Kremlin, which hours later announced that the head of the Wagner mercenaries “will go to Belarus. In return, "the criminal case that was opened against him (for rebellion) will be closed." Peskov, quoted by the Tass agency, added that the other "Wagnerites" who took part in the mutiny due to their "merits at the front" in Ukraine will not be prosecuted either.
Putin faces his biggest challenge in 23 years of power with the mercenaries' rebellion
In the morning, given the seriousness of the situation, Putin had to broadcast a message to the nation lasting almost six minutes on television this Saturday morning. Putin described the military rebellion as a "stab in the back against our country and against our people" and assured that anyone who takes up arms against the Army is a "traitor."
Putin compared the actions of Prigozhin and the Wagners to the events of 1917, when the Bolshevik revolution changed Russia and the world. That year, due to "intrigues, disputes, politicking behind the backs of the army and the people," Russia was robbed of victory in World War I, resulting in a civil war, Putin said. And he promised to prevent something similar from happening now.
The Russian leader said that he will do everything possible to protect Russia and assured that "decisive actions" will be taken to stabilize the situation in Rostov-on-Don.
But after a few hours, the situation worsened. The rebel militants reached the city of Voronezh, a provincial capital 500 kilometers south of Moscow. Nearby, a helicopter fired on the convoy of the insurgents, although there was no information that they had any resistance. Hours later they were already entering the Lipetsk Oblast, just 350 kilometers from the capital.
Wagner's chief took Rostov-on-Don before his men marched on Moscow
The Russian capital, whose center remained quite calm, was preparing for what could happen. Images with columns of armored vehicles heading south began to appear in the media and social networks. Footage of snipers behind sandbags on the M4 Don motorway awaiting the sudden enemy inside was released.
Trucks were also seen transporting soil from the border of the Russian capital, where various testimonies claimed that trenches were being dug.
After Putin's appearance, from Rostov Prigozhin posted again on his Telegram channel: “The president is deeply mistaken. we are patriots We have fought and we are fighting (...) and no one intends to surrender at the request of the president, the Federal Security Service (FSB) or whoever he is ”.
Wagner's boss assumed his rebellion and added that his men do not want "the country to continue living mired in corruption, lies and bureaucracy." He said that the desire to end the prevailing "chaos" is not a military coup, but "a march for justice" that ends the "chaos" caused by the military leadership in the dispute with Ukraine and the death of "more than 100,000 Russian soldiers” because of him.
Prigozhin blames the military commanders, Minister Shoigu and Gerasimov for bombing his bases
On Friday Prigozhin accused the army high command of having attacked with missiles the headquarters of his men, in the Ukrainian territory controlled by Russia. The Ministry of Defense denied this and said it was a "provocation".
Wagner's chief immediately called for the rebellion and announced that his troops would go to Rostov-on-Don to arrest the chief of the Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, and the Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, who has been very close to Putin for decades.
Wagner's men spearheaded months of Russia's offensive to take the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. Then a bitter fight began with Shoigu and Gerasimov, for not sending them enough ammunition.
That the FSB and the Russian Prosecutor General's Office opened a criminal case against him for military uprising, a crime that is punishable in Russia with between 12 and 20 years in prison, did not intimidate him. His mercenaries entered Russian territory at dawn and took control of Rostov-on-Don, one of the great Russian cities, with 1.1 million inhabitants and headquarters of the southern command of the Russian army.
“It is not a coup, but a march for justice” to remove corrupt bosses, Wagner said
Nor did it help to be asked to back off by Sergei Surovikin, deputy commander of the campaign in Ukraine and the only Russian military chief he has said he trusts.
But once the tension ended and an agreement was reached mediated by Lukashenko, the Wagner Group began to withdraw its forces from Rostov. according to the newspaper Kommersant , residents of the city came to say goodbye to the "Wagnerites" with applause and taking photos with the military equipment that was leaving the city. Prigozhin had boasted that he had seized control of Rostov “without a shot”.
The Russian Foreign Ministry warned Western countries not to use this crisis "to achieve their Russophobic goals." According to Putin, "Russia is waging a very difficult battle for its future" in Ukraine and against "the Western military, economic and information machine."
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