Wagner chief orders his forces to halt march on Moscow to avoid bloodshed
A deal to halt further movement of Wagner fighters across Russia in return for guarantees of safety for the rebels was brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Yevgeny Prigozhin’s office says.
Russian President Putin said Russia’s very existence was under threat. The head of the Wagner force has said he has ordered his mercenaries to halt their march on Moscow and retreat to their field camps in Ukraine to avoid shedding Russian blood.
Saturday’s announcement from Yevgeny Prigozhin appeared to defuse a growing crisis as Moscow had braced for the arrival of the private army led by the rebellious commander.
The fighters of the Wagner private army run by former Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin were already most of the way to the capital, having captured the city of Rostov and set off on a 1,100 km (680 mile) race to Moscow.
In an audio message, Prigozhin said the fighters would return to base because of the risk of the blood being spilt.
A deal to halt further movement of Wagner fighters across Russia in return for guarantees of safety for the rebels was brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, his office said.
Earlier, Prigozhin said his men were on a “march for justice” to remove corrupt and incompetent Russian commanders he blames for botching the war in Ukraine.
Russia’s existence under threatIn a televised address from the Kremlin, Putin said Russia’s very existence was under threat.
“We are fighting for the lives and security of our people, for our sovereignty and independence, for the right to remain Russia, a state with a thousand-year history,” he said.
“All those who deliberately stepped on the path of betrayal, who prepared an armed insurrection, who took the path of blackmail and terrorist methods, will suffer inevitable punishment, will answer both to the law and to our people.
“Putin later signed a law tightening rules for breaking martial law in places where it has been imposed, the RIA news agency said.
Video obtained by Reuters showed troop carriers and two flatbed trucks each carrying a tank driving 30 miles (50 km) beyond Voronezh, more than halfway to Moscow, where a helicopter fired on them.Prigozhin, whose private army fought the bloodiest battles in Ukraine even as he feuded for months with the military top brass, said he had captured the headquarters of Russia’s Southern Military District in the city of Rostov without firing a shot.
Rostov serves as the main rear logistical hub for Russia’s entire military force in Ukraine.