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Yevgeny Prigozhin’s coup Russia’s armed forces scramble at home to confront an armed insurrection by the nation’s most outspoken mercenary figure
- Late on Friday, June 23, 2023, Wagner Group mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin released a video on Telegram purportedly showing the aftermath of a Russian Defense Ministry missile attack against his fighters at a “rear base.”
- In a series of audio clips, Prigozhin subsequently announced that he would lead an armed campaign to “punish” the Defense Ministry officials supposedly responsible for the attack.
- Prigozhin insists that he is waging a “march of justice,” not a coup, but the FSB soon announced a criminal case to investigate his “incitement to armed insurrection.”
- Wagner forces seized control of a key military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don and Prigozhin published a video where he humiliates Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov.
- President Vladimir Putin then made a national address denouncing what he called a “stab in the back.”
- In response, Prigozhin called Putin “deeply mistaken,” slamming Russia’s corruption and saying his Wagner fighters are the true “patriots.”
- Just after 8:30 p.m. Moscow time on Saturday, Prigozhin abruptly announced that Wagner forces would stand down and retreat to their field camps “according to the plan.” This came shortly after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed to have mediated an agreement with Prigozhin to halt Wagner’s advance and take “further steps to de-escalate tensions.”
With that, folks, we are finally closing down our live coverage of the Wagner Group insurrection, but by no means is Meduza ending its reporting on this subject. Another live blog will follow if Prigozhin decides to rally his men again, and we will bring you loads more feature stories about these strange events and their aftermath. As you scratch your head with what’s left of the weekend, consider chewing on some of these more in-depth reports from Meduza:
After the Wagnerites were gone, the local police in Rostov arrived at the abandoned military headquarters, where a small crowd of men in civilian clothes reportedly accosted the officers, confronting the vehicles and shouting things like “Traitors!” and “Disgrace!”
It’s now been several hours since Wagner forces abandoned Rostov-on-Don, where they first seized control of a key military headquarters. Footage from on the ground as the mercenaries withdrew shows what appear to be local residents cheering the fighters, some of whom fire their guns into the air as they leave. A small crowd of people also rushed to Prigozhin as his car pulled away, asking for selfies and handshakes.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia will drop the criminal case against Yevgeny Prigozhin. He will “leave for Belarus,” Peskov added. He said that it’s not known to him what Prigozhin will do after this, and that Russia will not prosecute those Wagner fighters that took part in the rebellion, given their services on the front.
The Kremlin spokesman also added:
- There are no known changes to Putin’s confidence in Russia’s Defense Minister.
- Lukashenko offered to act as a negotiator, since he’s known Prigozhin for over 20 years.
- Lukashenko’s mediation efforts to avoid bloodshed were successful.
- Some Wagner units did not participate in the rebellion. These fighters can sign contracts with Russia’s Defense Ministry, if they wish.
- Personnel changes within Russia’s Defense Ministry are up to the Russian president and are unlikely to have been discussed during talks about ending the rebellion.
- The rebellion will in no way impact the “special operation.”
- It’s impossible to say for certain when the counter-terrorism measures will be lifted.
- There are no plans for Putin to make another national televised address.
And we spoke too soon!
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says that Russia will drop the criminal case against Yevgeny Prigozhin for inciting an armed insurrection. “He’s leaving for Belarus,” Peskov told state news agency TASS.
It’s 10:45 p.m. in Moscow and we’re hitting pause on the live blog, for now. Check back later for more updates or visit our regular news feed for the most important developments!
Footage of Wagner Group forces withdrawing from the Southern Military District headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, courtesy of Russian state news agency TASS. Local residents can be heard clapping and chanting “Wagner!”
Armored personnel carriers and National Guard vehicles are leaving checkpoints in Moscow and returning to their places of permanent deployment, reports the Telegram channel Mash. This footage has not been verified.
Per Alexander Lukashenko’s press service, the Belarusian leader phoned Vladimir Putin after his talks with Yevgeny Prigozhin. Apparently, Lukashenko gave Putin a detailed report on results of the negotiations. Putin allegedly expressed his support and “thanked his Belarusian colleague for the work he’d done.”
At this writing, Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Telegram audio message announcing the end of his attempted “coup” has racked more than 4.7 million listens — and more than 99,000 🤡 emoji reactions.
Roadworks are already underway in the Lipetsk region to repair the roadway that was preemptively destroyed in anticipation of the (now-cancelled) Wagner advance on Moscow, reports the Telegram channel Baza.
Sergey Sobyanin’s spokesman has confirmed that Moscow residents will still get the day off on Monday.
Local news outlet 161.ru has shared footage of Rostov-on-Don residents wishing Wagner Group fighters farewell as they prepare to leave town. This same footage was also shared by state news outlet RIA Novosti.
All the regions of Russia that took counter-terrorism measures during Prigozhin’s advance on Moscow.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the citizens of Russia (in Russian)
“I’ll say it in Russian. It’s clear that the person in the Kremlin is very afraid and is probably hiding somewhere and is not showing himself. I’m confident that he’s already left Moscow. He’s calling somewhere, asking for something… He knows what to be afraid of because he himself created this threat. All evil, all loses, all hatred, he himself spreads. The longer he is able to run between his bunkers, the more you will all lose… all those connected to Russia.
What will we Ukrainians do? We will defend our country. We will defend our freedom. We will not be silent and we will not stand idly by. We know how to win and we will. Our victory in this war will be clear.
And what will you all be doing?
The longer your troops will be on Ukrainian territory, the larger the collapse they will then bring to Russia. The longer this person will be in the Kremlin, the larger this catastrophe will be.”
Video footage of armored vehicles moving through Moscow.
Prigozhin says Wagner Group is turning its convoys around.
“They wanted to dissolve Wagner Group. On June 23, we set off on our ‘march of justice.’ In the span of 24 hours, we got within 200 kilometers of Moscow. During that time, not a single drop of our fighters’ blood was shed. Now we’ve reached the moment where bloodshed is possible. So, understanding the full responsibility for the potential shedding of Russian blood from either side, we’re turning our columns around and heading back in the opposite direction towards our field camps, according to plan.”
President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, with Vladimir Putin’s agreement, held talks with Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, says Lukashenko’s press service. According to Lukashenko’s team, Prigozhin agreed to stop his convoy’s progress toward Moscow and to take “further steps to de-escalate tension.” Neither Russian official channels nor Prigozhin have confirmed this information.
Meduza’s interactive map of the Prigozhin convoy’s progress toward Moscow, now in English.
A Meduza correspondent walked through the center of Moscow and reports that there’s “a strong feeling that there should be a rally, but there isn’t.” Here’s what they saw:
- At the Kazansky railway station: increased passenger inspections, the building was being guarded by police officers in bulletproof vests with truncheons. The correspondent also noticed people in unmarked military uniforms near the station, but they couldn’t figure out what they were doing there.
- In front of the General Staff building on Znamenka Street there were fully equipped soldiers with submachine guns, one of the five soldiers was carrying a shotgun.
- In the Alexander Garden, people were walking, lots of children. Red Square was closed. NDP (a Russian far-right political alliance associated with the Kremlin) activists were holding a rally near the monument to Marshal Zhukov.
- Barriers have been installed on Manezhnaya Square, but the square was still open.
- There were more police officers than usual outside the Duma. On the corner of Tverskaya Street and Okhotny Ryad, there were several members of the Federal Guard Service and police, all wearing flak jackets.
- There were police buses and officers behind the FSB building on the Lubyanka, and two police officers with submachine guns were patrolling Lubyanka Passage.
- The correspondent did not see any clusters of military equipment, but there were noticeably more cars with flashing lights going around the city than usual on a weekend. Communications in the center of Moscow worked fine. Muscovites were walking around and discussing the military uprising among other topics, but no military personnel were visible. There are metal fences around Red Square.
Shots fired in central Rostov-on-Don
Russian news outlets are reporting that several shots were fired in the center of Rostov-on-Don.
Videos posted on Telegram show people running.
According to one Russian state news correspondent, Wagner Group fighters ordered residents who were gathered around the Southern Military District’s headquarters to leave the area.
Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry warns Western countries not to “take advantage” of the Wagner Group armed rebellion to achieve their “Russophobic goals.”
We warn Western countries off any hint of using Russia’s domestic situation to achieve their Russophobic goals. Such attempts are futile, and will not get a response either in Russia or among sensible political forces abroad. We are certain that a solution worthy of the age-old wisdom of the Russian people will be found in the near future.
The ministry’s statement added that “the rebellion plays into the hands of the Russian Federation’s external enemies.” It did not mention either Yevgeny Prigozhin or Wagner Group.
Railway stations in Rostov-on-Don are overcrowded with people trying to leave the city, local media is reporting. Kommersant says there are large queues at the suburban railway station.
According to the regional government, the bus station is operating normally. “The sale of tickets to destinations where traffic is temporarily blocked has been stopped,” the government’s press service told reporters.
Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin announces he’s giving residents Monday, June 26 the day off work “in order to minimize risks.” He calls the current situation “complex.”
Russian schools, pre-schools, and libraries have started putting up identical social media posts in support of Vladimir Putin, reports the Telegram channel Astra. The posts urge readers “not to succumb to provocations and to prevent an internal split between the state and our people.”
Latest news as of 6:00 p.m., Moscow time
- 🪖 Wagner Group convoys appear to be advancing north towards Moscow.
- 🪖 An armored motorcade of Chechen fighters is headed towards Rostov-on-Don.
- 💻 Rostelecom, Russia’s largest digital services provider, has recommended its employees work remotely
- ⛓️ Wagner fighters have reportedly begun detaining people in Rostov.
- 🛫 Putin’s plane left Moscow at around 2:16 local time. His spokesman claims he’s still at the Kremlin.
- 🎯 One source said Putin plans to “eliminate” Prigozhin and offer amnesty to Wagner fighters.
Excavators dig up highways in Lipetsk, making roads near Wagner column impassable
Video footage has appeared on Telegram channels, showing excavators digging up roads in Russia’s Lipetsk region, where at least one Wagner column is currently located. According to Prigozhin, his fighters are heading to Moscow.
All of the buses scheduled to depart Rostov-on-Don’s main bus station on Saturday have been canceled. Crowds have formed at the city’s train station as people try to get out of the city, according to Kommersant.
Wagner Group fighters illegally detaining people in Rostov-on-Don.
According to the local news outlet Bloknot, Wagner mercenaries stopped a car with license plates from the annexed “Luhansk People’s Republic” and forced the men inside to lie on the asphalt. They then took the men in an unknown direction.
Lipetsk Governor Igor Artamonov has confirmed that Wagner military vehicles are in the region. “Law enforcement and the authorities, including municipal ones, are taking all necessary measures to ensure the population’s safety,” he assured residents, asking them not to leave their homes.
Russia’s M-4 federal highway, which links Moscow to Rostov, runs through the Lipetsk region.
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