- Wagner head says group standing down after claims of a deal
- Kremlin says Wagner fighters will return to base to sign contracts with military
MOSCOW (Agencies): Less than 24 hours after Wagner Group mercenaries took control of the strategic southern city of Rostov and began an armed convoy march towards Moscow, Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin abruptly announced late Saturday that his violent, attempted insurrection was over.“The moment has come when blood may spill. That’s why, understanding the responsibility for spilling Russian blood on one of the sides, we are turning back our convoys and going back to field camps according to the plan,” Prigozhin said on an official Telegram channel.
Within a few hours of the statement, Wagner mercenaries in Rostov were filmed climbing into their trucks and departing the city. As they did, civilians took selfies with the Wagner troops and cheered for them.
The apparent end of Wagner’s march on Moscow came as the result of a deal reached between Prigozhin and the Kremlin, brokered by an unlikely intermediary: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. In exchange for his turning back, the criminal case against Prigozhin had been dropped,
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian reporters, according to the state controlled outlet TASS. Prigozhin himself “will go to Belarus,” Peskov said, describing what appeared to be a sort of official exile. Wagner mercenaries who participated in Prigozhin’s “walk” would not be prosecuted, said Peskov, citing their service to Russia so far in the Ukraine war. Instead, they would be given the opportunity to sign contracts to join the Russian military, ostensibly to return to the fight in Ukraine, TASS reported.
At first glance, the deal appeared to signal the end of the Wagner Group and the integration of its fighters into the Russian armed forces. Peskov also said Russian President Vladimir Putin would not be delivering an address or live comments on the events of the past 24 hours. Putin’s absence from the public eye as his grip on power faced its greatest challenge was yet another remarkable detail of the failed insurrection.