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Russia rebellion: Wagner Group troops to be absorbed into Russian military as mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin heads to Belarus | World News

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Some Wagner Group mercenaries will join the official Russian military after their leader called off their march on Moscow and agreed to relocate to Belarus.

Yevgeny Prigozhin stood down his troops, who were heading towards the Russian capital, saying he wished to avoid spilling Russian blood.

His mercenaries were reportedly just 120 miles from Moscow after Prigozhin had vowed to “destroy anyone who stands in our way”.

Yevgeny Prigozhin poses for selfies as he leaves Rostov Pic: AP

After negotiations with the Kremlin, Prigozhin, previously known as “Putin’s chef”, called an abrupt halt to the advance, which many observers had branded an attempted coup.

Wagner boss turns his troops around – Russia mutiny latest

As part of the agreement, the full details of which are yet to be revealed, it was reportedly decided that Prigozhin will leave Russia for Belarus and some of his Wagner fighters will be subsumed into the Russian military.

Wagner troops reportedly advanced north to 120 miles (200km) from Moscow when their convoy turned back. The red bars indicate Russian road blockades or defences.
Wagner troops reportedly advanced north to 120 miles (200km) from Moscow when their convoy turned back. The red bars indicate Russian road blockades or defences.

The US reportedly had intelligence that Prigozhin was building up his forces near the border with Russia for some time.

Officials briefed congressional leaders known as the Gang of Eight on the build-up earlier in the week, a person familiar with the matter said.

The person was not authorised to speak publicly and spoke to the Associated Press news agency on the condition of anonymity.

The military preparations raise questions about Prigozhin’s explanation for why he seemingly spontaneously sent his forces into Russia and whether he had instead long been planning a challenge to Russia’s military leadership.

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Wagner leader’s audio message calling off advance

Sky News’ defence and security editor Deborah Haynes said: “It all does look like a bit of theatre as opposed to the grave threat to the state that it appeared to be earlier on throughout the day.

“Vladimir Putin came out with this extraordinary statement earlier gravely cracking down on the actions of Prigozhin and his followers but now it seems all has been forgiven.

“The hope I’m assuming is that things can get back to the normal abnormality that is life in Russia during this time of war in Ukraine.

“But the events have been so extraordinary that I think it’s going to take much longer to unpick exactly what happened.”

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Wagner group cheered in captured city

In his message, Prigozhin said: “In 24 hours we reached within 200km of Moscow. Over that time we didn’t shed a single drop of our men’s blood.

“Now though the time has come when blood might be shed. Therefore, mindful of the responsibility that Russian blood might be shed by one of the parties, we are turning our columns round and moving off in the opposite direction, to the field camps, according to plan.”

After the armed mutiny was called off, the Kremlin said all criminal charges against Prigozhin would be dropped, his Wagner fighters would not be prosecuted and he would relocate to Belarus.

“Avoiding bloodshed was more important than punishing people,” a Kremlin spokesperson said, adding that some of the Wagner fighters will be able to sign contracts with Russia’s defence ministry.

The office of Alexander Lukashenko said the decision to halt further movement of Wagner fighters was brokered by the Belarusian president, with President Vladimir Putin’s approval, in return for guarantees for their safety.

Read more:
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The Kremlin said Mr Lukashenko had offered to mediate because he had known the mercenary leader personally for around 20 years.

Russia had enlisted 3,000 elite Chechen troops to be stationed in Moscow and placed machine guns on its borders, in preparation of private troops entering the capital.

Pro-Russian media reported 13 Russian soldiers were killed as part of the mutiny – but Sky News has not been able to verify the claim.

Earlier, the Russian president accused the leader of the Wagner Group of treason and leading an “armed mutiny”.

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Putin accuses Prigozhin of treason

Condemning the actions of one-time ally Prigozhin, who was leading a rebellion to oust Russia’s defence minister, Putin branded the mercenary boss’s actions a “stab in the back” to the country’s soldiers and people.

But Prigozhin denied a betrayal and called his fighters “patriots”.

The convoy had earlier moved rapidly from Russia’s south and was thought to be around the Lipetsk region before the advance ended.

Russian media had shown groups of police manning machine gun positions at Moscow’s southern border.

In this image from video, a man sits atop an armored vehicle in the street as residents of the southern Russian city talk with military personnel on Saturday, June 24, 2023. Earlier in the day, the head of the Wagner group, mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said he had ordered his personnel to halt their march on Moscow to avoid shedding Russian blood. (AP Photo/APTN)

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Prigozhin claimed he and his troops had reached Rostov-on-Don after crossing the Russian border from Ukraine and taken control of key sites, including the airfield.

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‘Confusion and bewilderment’ in Russia

The city is home to the Russian military headquarters that directs the invading forces in Ukraine.

The mercenary group was also said to have seized defence facilities in the city of Voronezh, around 310 miles south of Moscow.

The Russian army carried out “combat measures” in the Voronezh region “as part of the counter-terrorist operation”, according to its governor Alexander Gusev.

The Wagner forces have played a crucial role in Russia’s war in Ukraine, succeeding in taking the city of Bakhmut where the bloodiest and longest battles have taken place.

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