Wagner Group halts armed rebellion, Prigozhin to be sent to Belarus as part of deal [Updated]

"...we will turn our convoys around and go in the opposite direction..."
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
Wagner Group fighters in the city of Rostov-on-Don on Saturday, Jun. 24, 2023. (Photo by ROMAN ROMOKHOV/AFP via Getty Images)

Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said that he is ending his armed rebellion against the Russian military, hours after his forces stormed into Russia, seized a major military headquarters and began shooting down Russian helicopters. He said that he is halting his march toward Moscow and the fighters will instead return to Wagner camps in Ukraine, after an alleged deal to halt the mercenary uprising was announced. As part of that deal, Prigozhin himself will relocate to Belarus.

“Now the moment has come when blood can be shed,” Prigozhin said in an audio message released online. “Therefore, realizing all the responsibility for the fact that Russian blood will be shed from one side, we will turn our convoys around and go in the opposite direction to our field camps.”

The deal was allegedly negotiated by Belarussian President Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, a Putin ally. The full details are not clear, but Prigozhin said that that authorities had allegedly wanted to disband the Wagner Group, the private military company that has worked with Russian forces in Ukraine, as part of it. Wagner Group forces will return to camps in Ukraine, with some fighters signing contracts with the government.

As part of the deal, Prigozhin himself will relocate to Belarus, as part of a deal for the criminal charges against him to be dropped. Prior to his uprising, he had been in Ukraine, staying near the front lines of the fight in Ukraine.

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The move comes only a day after Prigozhin essentially declared war on the Russian Ministry of Defense, claiming that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov had fired a missile at his forces; they deny that and there is no evidence of a strike. Overnight, his forces crossed into Russia, taking control of the Southern Military District in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, capturing Deputy Defense Minister Yukus-bekl Yevkurov. In response to the “armed uprising,” the Russian FSB announced it opened a criminal case against Prigozhin and was seeking his arrest. Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the nation around 10 a.m. local time on Saturday, promising a “harsh” response against the “betrayal.”

In response to an apparent advance toward Moscow, the Russian national guard, Rosgvardia, set up roadblocks along major highways, as well as deployed its fighters. Defensive positions were set up, and the mayor of Moscow declared a three-day-weekend and called on people to stay home. Wagner troops, which includes both armor and infantry, shot down multiple Russian helicopters. Footage online showed some helicopters being downed, and a Russian Telegram channel run by a Russian Air Force pilot claimed that more than half a dozen had been taken out, including gunships and electronic warfare ones. Wagner forces apparently used several anti-air missiles, despite long running claims of being low or out of ammunition while fighting in Ukraine.

It’s unclear how many Russian casualties there are from the last two days.

Despite promising to go “all the way” including marching on Moscow, and taking to his favorite social media platform Telegram to post updates, Prigozhin has halted. He had explicitly gone after Shoigu and Gerasimov, in the biggest escalation of his running feud with the leaders of the Russian military. Prigozhin, a Putin ally for years, had criticized Russian leadership for months, accusing them of mismanaging the war in Ukraine.

Wagner fighters have pulled out of Rostov-on-Don.

The apparent deal includes security guarantees for the Wagner Group contractors who joined Prigozhin’s invasion of Russia, per Lukashenko’s announcement on the deal. Wagner Group fighters who did not take part in the uprising will not be punished, spokesmen for the Kremlin said. They will be forced to sign contracts with the Russian military, which the Russian government had been pushing for. The exact amount of Wagner contractors who will be punished is unclear; Prigozhin claimed to have a force of 25,000 with him in Russia as part of his rebellion but that was not confirmed. 

It’s not clear what this means for the Russian military leadership, or if Shoigu and Gerasimov will remain in their posts. 

This is a developing story. 

Update: 6/24/23: This story has been updated with more details of the deal, including Prigozhin agreeing to move to Belarus.

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