Russia endeavors to defuse Wagner rebellion

This photo taken on June 24, 2023 shows the Red Square in Moscow, Russia. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

MOSCOW – Russia appears to have stabilized the situation after the country's Wagner private military group was accused of attempting to launch an armed rebellion.

A compromise was reached between Moscow and Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner group, through the mediation of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on late Saturday.

Xinhua reporters found that the incident did not cause a major disorder in Russian society and people's life in Moscow and beyond was barely affected.

Charge of armed mutiny 

In a surprise move on early Saturday, the Russian Federal Security Service announced that a criminal case was initiated against Prigozhin for incitement to armed insurrection.

The criminal case against Prigozhin will be dropped and he will go to Belarus, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters late Saturday, without specifying what exactly Prigozhin will do in the former Soviet republic

This came after several audio recordings were posted on Prigozhin's Telegram channel where he claimed that his units had allegedly come under attack, accusing Russia's military leadership of orchestrating the strikes.

Later, Russia's National Anti-terrorism Committee said that a counter-terrorist operation regime was introduced in Moscow city, the Moscow region and the Voronezh region to prevent possible terrorist acts.

In a statement to Wagner troops, the Russian Defense Ministry said: "You were tricked into Prigozhin's criminal adventure and participation in an armed rebellion."

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"We ask you to be prudent and get in touch with representatives of the Russian Defense Ministry or law enforcement agencies as soon as possible. We guarantee everyone's safety," the ministry stressed.

The headquarters of the Wagner group located in Russia's second-largest city of St Petersburg was cordoned off by security forces. A Xinhua correspondent witnessed several police cars parked in or around the compound, with law enforcers on duty.

The Wagner group made its name known to the world by fighting Ukraine on the battleground. It pioneered a prolonged Russian campaign to seize the city of Bakhmut that was hotly contested with Ukrainian forces.

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin openly congratulated the Wagner assault detachments on the triumph in Artyomovsk, the Russian name of Bakhmut.

'Tough' response

In a televised address to the nation on Saturday, Putin ordered the Russian Armed Forces to neutralize those who organized the armed mutiny.

"Any actions that split our nation are essentially a betrayal of our people, of our comrades-in-arms who are now fighting at the front line. This is a stab in the back of our country and our people," Putin said.

"Any internal turmoil is a deadly threat to our statehood, to us as a nation. This is a blow to Russia, to our people. And our actions to protect the motherland from such a threat will be tough," he added.

"All those who deliberately embarked on the path of betrayal, who prepared an armed rebellion, who embarked on the path of blackmail and terrorist methods, will suffer inevitable punishment and answer both before the law and before our people," he noted.

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"I urge those who are being dragged into this crime not to make a fatal and tragic mistake, but to make the only right choice — to stop participating in criminal acts," Putin stressed.

The Russian leader had phone conversations with Lukashenko, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the incident. According to the Kremlin, Erdogan expressed full support for the steps taken by the Russian leadership.

In response to the rebellion charge, Prigozhin said on Telegram: "We are patriots of our motherland."

Successful negotiation

Prigozhin has accepted Lukashenko's proposal to stop the advance of the Wagner troops and de-escalate the situation, according to RIA Novosti news agency reports.

On Saturday morning, Putin informed his Belarusian counterpart of the situation in southern Russia regarding the Wagner group, and the heads of state agreed on joint actions.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin posted on Russian social media VK that previously announced mass events were canceled, but he denied reports of traffic closures at the entrances and exits of the Russian capital. To minimize risks, he declared Monday a non-working day

"The President of Belarus held talks with Yevgeny Prigozhin. Negotiations lasted throughout the day. As a result, they came to an agreement on the inadmissibility of unleashing a bloody massacre on the Russian territory. Prigozhin accepted Lukashenko's proposal to stop the movement of the Wagner armed persons and take further steps to de-escalate tensions," the press service of the Belarusian president was quoted as saying.

There was reportedly an acceptable option on the table for resolving the situation, with security guarantees for the Wagner fighters. Then, Prigozhin said that his fighters were going back to their field camps.

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The criminal case against Prigozhin will be dropped and he will go to Belarus, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters late Saturday, without specifying what exactly Prigozhin will do in the former Soviet republic.

He added that Lukashenko has been personally acquainted with Prigozhin for about 20 years and "this was his personal proposal agreed with Putin."

"There was a higher goal to avoid bloodshed, to avoid internal confrontation, to avoid clashes with unpredictable results. It was for the sake of these goals that Lukashenko's mediation efforts were made and President Putin made the appropriate decision," Peskov said.

According to the official, the guarantee that Prigozhin will be able to leave for Belarus was the word of the Russian president.

The incident with the Wagner group will not affect the course of Russia's special military operation in Ukraine, which will continue, he added.

General tranquility

Xinhua reporters felt a sense of calmness in several Russian cities, although temporary restrictions and verification measures were put in place.

The Red Square in central Moscow was closed the whole Saturday, but tourists and business people were still allowed outside the police line. A traveler from St Petersburg, who identified himself as Valery, told Xinhua that he heard about the Wagner incident from social media but did not know exactly what had happened.

There were fewer people and less traffic in downtown Moscow, while the three major airports in the city — the Sheremetyevo, the Domodedovo and the Vnukovo — were all operating normally.

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Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin posted on Russian social media VK that previously announced mass events were canceled, but he denied reports of traffic closures at the entrances and exits of the Russian capital. To minimize risks, he declared Monday a non-working day.

In St Petersburg, neighborhoods near the Wagner headquarters remained calm.

In southern Russia's Rostov-on-Don city, the center of the turmoil, a resident, who called himself Yevgeny, told Xinhua that "nobody seems affected … Everything will be fine."