Russian warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin has said his Wagner mercenaries had abandoned their insurrection against the country’s armed forces just hours before a potential assault on Moscow, signalling a possible end to the first coup attempt in Russia for three decades.
In a deal brokered by Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko, Prigozhin said his convoy of troops, weapons and tanks would stop their journey towards Moscow on Saturday evening and return to their bases after 24 hours of crisis in which the Kremlin scrambled to turn the capital into a fortress to fight off the rebels.
The Kremlin did not immediately confirm it had agreed to the retreat of Prigozhin’s forces, which had seized control of the southern city of Rostov and shot down multiple Russian aircraft as part of the insurgency. They were within 200km of Moscow.
President Vladimir Putin had earlier vowed to crush the insurrection and accused Wagner of “treason” that posed “a deadly threat to our statehood” comparable to the 1917 revolution that led to the collapse of imperial Russia.
Putin said he had given “necessary orders” to tackle the Wagner paramilitary group and for “decisive measures” to recapture Rostov from the militia.
Prigozhin’s attempted mutiny followed months of increasingly bitter infighting between the warlord and the leaders of Russia’s armed forces, exacerbated by 16 months of war against Ukraine.
The conflict has failed to achieve its aims, hamstrung the country’s economy, cost tens of thousands of lives and created a dangerous patchwork of competing militias and security forces.
“Right now the moment has come when blood could be spilled. Therefore, understanding all the responsibility for the fact that Russian blood will be spilled on one side, we are turning our convoy around and going back to our basecamps, according to the plan,” Progozhin said in a voice memo posted to social media.
He did not specify what the “plan” was.
Prigozhin had previously said his Wagner forces no longer wanted to live “under corruption, lies, and bureaucracy”.
Lukashenko’s press service said the agreement came after the Belarusian leader spent “the entire day” negotiating with Prigozhin after “agreeing on joint actions” with Putin and “additionally clarifying the situation through his own channels”.
It said Prigozhin had “accepted [Lukashenko’s] request to “stop the movement of armed men from the Wagner company on Russian territory and [take] further steps to de-escalate the situation”.
“At the moment, there is an absolutely advantageous and acceptable way to defuse the situation on the table, with security guarantees for Wagner’s fighters,” the press service added.