Wagner troops withdraw from southern Russia as uprising leaves Vladimir Putin weakened

News Room

Receive free Russia updates

Russian warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin and his troops were withdrawing from southern Russia on Sunday after reaching a deal with Moscow to end his armed uprising after the biggest crisis of Vladimir Putin’s presidency.

Prizoghin himself maintained a rare silence after calling an end to his insurrection on Saturday evening, though the Kremlin said he would travel to Belarus after the country’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko, brokered the agreement to end the uprising.

Prigozhin’s press office told Russian broadcaster RTVI on Sunday afternoon that the warlord “says hi to everyone and will answer questions when he has good [cell phone] reception”. He had left the city of Rostov-on-Don Saturday evening, according to video footage released by Russian state news agency RIA, which showed crowds cheering the Wagner Group leader. 

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on Sunday that the uprising showed “real cracks” in Putin’s authority. “This raises profound questions . . . We do know that Putin has a lot more to answer for in the weeks and months ahead,” Blinken said.

Blinken called the crisis an “unfolding story”, adding: “I think we are in the midst of a moving picture. We haven’t seen the last act.”

Authorities in southern Russia said Wagner’s troops were pulling back from the region. Alexander Gusev, governor of Voronezh province, wrote on his official Telegram channel at about 11am local time that “the movement of . . . Wagner units through Voronezh region is about to end. It is proceeding normally and without incident.”

Video footage posted elsewhere on Telegram appeared to confirm this, showing several military vehicles with Wagner flags moving at dawn from the northern suburbs of Voronezh city towards Rostov-on-Don, reversing the route they had taken from Ukraine on Saturday.

At about 1pm, authorities in Lipetsk region said Wagner troops had also left this area, closer to Moscow.

Chechen special forces on Sunday also started their withdrawal from Rostov towards the Ukrainian frontline, according to the Chechen Republic’s official broadcaster. These fighters did not reach the city centre of Rostov, where the Wagner forces were located, and had not engaged in any hostilities with the other militia. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov assessed their actions as “extremely efficient and well thought out”.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think-tank, said on Sunday that the Kremlin had “struggled to cohere an effective rapid response to Wagner’s advances, likely due to surprise and the heavy impact of losses in Ukraine”.

“Wagner likely could have reached the outskirts of Moscow if Prigozhin chose to order them to do so,” the group said, adding that the events would “likely substantially damage Putin’s government and the Russian war effort in Ukraine”.

Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, and its chief of the general staff, Valery Gerasimov, both also remained silent on Sunday. The pair had been the target of Prigozhin’s rants in the months ahead of the coup attempt, as the warlord claimed they had withheld ammunition from his fighters in Ukraine, where they have been a core part of the invasion force.

Wagner, the largest of several private militias fighting in Ukraine, had recruited thousands of convicts from Russian jails. The Kremlin said on Saturday, as Wagner troops began withdrawing from Russia, that it would not prosecute those who had taken part in the rebellion, while those that did not take part would be offered contracts with Russia’s ministry of defence.

Blinken said Washington was prepared for “every contingency”, but added: “We haven’t seen any change in Russia’s nuclear posture. There hasn’t been any change in ours. But it’s something we are going to watch very, very carefully.”

He said state department officials had “some engagement with the Russians over the weekend” but declined to answer whether US president Joe Biden or CIA chief Bill Burns had sought to contact their Russian counterparts.

Read the full article here

Share this Article
Leave a comment