The latest on the armed rebellion declared by Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin:
Russian media reported late Saturday that several helicopters and a military communications plane were downed by Wagner troops during the short-lived uprising. Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin previously said his forces had taken control of the military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, as well as other military facilities in the city without any deaths or even “a single gunshot.”
The Kremlin referred the question about the losses to the Defense Ministry, which has kept mum.
The head of the private Russian military company Wagner will move to neighboring Belarus as part of deal to defuse rebellion tensions and the criminal case against him will be closed, the Kremlin said Saturday.
Yevgeny Prigozhin’s troops who joined him in the uprising will not face prosecution and those who did not will be offered contracts by the Defense Ministry, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
After the deal was reached, Prigozhin said he was ordering his troops to halt their march on Moscow and retreat to field camps in Ukraine, where they have been fighting alongside Russian troops.
Russia says charges against mercenary chief who mounted an armed rebellion will be dropped
Prigozhin, the Wagner Group leader who urged an uprising, has long ties to Putin
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Saturday, shortly before Yevgeny Prigozhin’s announcement of his retreat, that Saturday’s events showed “that the bosses of Russia do not control anything.” The Kremlin, he said, “showed all Russian bandits, mercenaries, oligarchs” that it is easy to “capture Russian cities and, probably, arsenals with weapons.”
Switching into Russian during his daily video address, Zelenskyy claimed that “the man from the Kremlin” was “very afraid." Zelenskyy used the backdrop of the situation in Russia to urge allies to give Ukraine F-16 fighter aircraft and ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles, as well as underlined the importance of Ukraine joining NATO.
The head of the Wagner group said Saturday he has ordered his mercenaries to halt their march on Moscow and retreat to their field camps in Ukraine to avoid shedding Russian blood.
The announcement from Yevgeny Prigozhin appeared to defuse a dramatically escalating crisis that represented the most significant challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s leadership in his more than two decades in power. Moscow had braced for the arrival of the private army led by the rebellious commander while Putin had vowed that Prigozhin would face harsh consequences.
Prigozhin didn’t say whether the Kremlin had responded to his demand to oust Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin.
The announcement followed a statement from the office of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko saying that he had negotiated a deal with Prigozhin after previously discussing the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Saturday about the situation in Russia. According to a statement from the White House, the four leaders reaffirmed their “unwavering” support for Ukraine during the conversation. However, the White House said U.S. officials were wary of weighing in further on the situation and "wanted to avoid any comment that could be misconstrued to suggest the U.S. was taking a side in the apparently internal conflict.”
The governor of the region surrounding Russia's capital has suspended mass public events outdoors and at educational institutions until July 1.
Gov. Andrei Vorobyov issued a decree with the bans on Saturday as the chief of private Russian military company Wagner said his mercenaries were heading to Moscow in an armed rebellion against Russia's defense minister.
The governor's decree doesn't apply to the city itself but the surrounding areas.
However, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin warned that traffic could be restricted in parts of the capital as part of the counter-terrorism operation prompted by the rebellion. The counter-terrorism operation allows authorities to tighten security, impose curbs on traffic and communications, and to conduct searches without warrants.
There was no immediate word of whether a curfew would be imposed.
The mayor also declared Monday a non-working day for most people, with the exception of public servants and employees of some industrial enterprises.
A senior Kremlin official has warned that a successful rebellion by the Wagner group would mean the mercenaries getting ahold of Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal, which would raise an existential threat to the entire world.
“The history of mankind hasn’t yet seen the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons under control by bandits,” Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies. “Such a crisis will not be limited by just one country’s borders, the world will be put on the brink of destruction.”
He added that “we won’t allow such a turn of events.”
Medvedev has frequently used hardline rhetoric since Russia sent troops into Ukraine, regularly reminding the West about Russia’s nuclear arsenal in a bid to discourage the U.S. and its allies from ramping up weapons supplies to Kyiv.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has warned the West against trying to take advantage of the rebellion led by mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.
The ministry said in a statement Saturday that “we are cautioning Western countries against even a hint of using the internal situation in Russia for achieving their Russophobic goals.”
It argued that the mutiny plays into the hands of Russia’s enemies and said that the Russian public stands behind President Vladimir Putin.
The ministry said that Moscow appreciates its allies and partners voicing their understanding of the situation.
Security in a number of Russian regions was tightened as authorities sought to thwart an armed rebellion spearheaded by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.
There was tighter security particularly in areas between the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, where Prigozhin’s Wagner group appeared to control military headquarters, and Moscow.
The governor of the Lipetsk region asked residents to stay at home and refrain from traveling. Governor Igor Artamonov said on Telegram that Wagner had entered the province but “the situation is under control.”
In the neighboring Tambov region, mass events were canceled Saturday.
The governor of the Kaluga region, just south of the Moscow region, said that movement on roads in areas on its western, southern and eastern borders had been restricted. Vladislav Shapsha wrote on Telegram that people should “refrain from traveling by private vehicle on these roads unless absolutely necessary.”
In the capital, traffic on the Moscow River was suspended. Police officers in bulletproof vests and with machine guns were seen near the entrance of the major highway that links Moscow with Voronezh and Rostov–on-Don.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office says he told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday that Turkey was ready to help resolve the stand-off in Russia with the mercenary Wagner group.
The Turkish presidency tweeted that, in a phone call with Putin, Erdogan “underlined the importance of acting with common sense” and said Ankara could help resolve events as soon as possible. It did not specify how Turkey could help.
Turkey has retained close ties with both Moscow and Kyiv during the war.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister says the “political crisis” in Russia provides Kyiv with a “window of opportunity.”
Hanna Maliar wrote on Telegram Saturday that Moscow’s “erroneous decision” to start a war in Ukraine had brought about “the inevitable degradation of the Russian state.”
The rebellion by mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin comes as Kyiv’s forces have been probing Russian defenses in the initial stages of a counteroffensive.
Speaking in Kyiv, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that “a coup is taking place in Russia, led by Prigozhin and his Wagner troops. Any coup, any problem that emerges in enemy’s rear aligns with our interest."
He added that "it is early to estimate consequences.”
Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven major industrial powers conferred Saturday on the situation in Russia after mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin launched an armed rebellion.
The U.S. State Department and German Foreign Ministry gave few details of the discussion, which also included the European Union’s foreign policy chief.
The State Department said Secretary of State Antony Blinken “reiterated that support by the United States for Ukraine will not change.” It said that the U.S. “will stay in close coordination” with allies and partners as the situation develops.
The G7 comprises the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and the U.K.
The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to several foreign leaders on Saturday following the armed rebellion by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin spoke on the phone with the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and “informed his counterparts of the situation.”
Putin also spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A Kremlin statement said the Russian leader informed Erdogan “about the situation in the country related to an attempted armed rebellion,” and the Turkish president “expressed full support for the steps of the Russian leadership.”
Mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin claims that his troops entered the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don without a single shot and says that no one was killed during what he calls a “march of justice.”
Prigozhin said in a new audio statement on Saturday that “we didn’t touch a single conscript, we didn’t kill a single person on our way.” He added that the Russian air force targeted his troops, but they still managed to seize military headquarters in Rostov “without a single gunshot.”
His claims could not be independently verified. The Russian authorities haven’t reported any casualties so far, either.
Estonia and Latvian officials say their countries have stepped up border security following an armed rebellion in neighboring Russia by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Both nations are NATO members and strong backers of Ukraine, and have tense relations with Russia. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas wrote on Twitter that Estonia is “closely following” developments and exchanging information with allies.
Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics of neighboring Latvia wrote in an English-language Twitter post that his country's border security also has been strengthened and “visa or border entry from Russians leaving Russia due to current events won’t be considered.”
Both Kallas and Rinkevics said there was no “direct threat” to their respective countries.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zekenskyy says it is clear that Russia is suffering from “full-scale weakness” after mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin launched an armed rebellion.
Zelenskyy said in comments posted on his Telegram channel Saturday that “anyone who chooses the path of evil destroys himself.”
He said that “for a long time, Russia used propaganda to mask its weakness and the stupidity of its government. And now there is so much chaos that no lie can hide it.”
Officials across Russia have rallied behind President Vladimir Putin, publicly reiterating their allegiance to the Kremlin and urging mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin to back down.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, said that lawmakers “stand for the consolidation of forces” and support Putin after his address to the nation on Saturday.
Maria Zakharova, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a Telegram post that “we have one commander in chief. Not two, not three. One. And he urged everyone to unite.”
Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya who has previously sided with Prigozhin in his criticism of the military leadership, also expressed his support for Putin. He said that “the mutiny needs to be suppressed.”
So far, no Russian official has spoken out in support of Prigozhin.
Unexpected support for mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s endeavor came from exiled tycoon turned opposition leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Khodorkovsky said in a Facebook post that Prigozhin’s rebellion is “the strongest blow to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s reputation,” and that helping him get to Moscow would be “helping our country.”
He said Prigozhin had “repeated word for word what we, the anti-war opposition, have been saying since the beginning of the war” — that the “purpose of the war is theft” and no one believes in the official reason for the war in Ukraine.
A video that appeared on Telegram on Saturday showed mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin meeting with Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and deputy chief of the General Staff Vladimir Alexeyev.
In the video, whose origin couldn’t not be independently verified, Prigozhin claimed that he and his troops were “saving Russia” and demanded that Russian authorities give up Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
“We want to get the chief of the General Staff and Shoigu,” Prigozhin said. “Until they are here, we are here, we are blocking the city of Rostov and go toward Moscow.”
In the video, Yevkurov and Alexeyev tried to persuade Prigozhin to withdraw his forces from Rostov-on-Don, but to no avail.
Prigozhin, a billionaire with ties to the Kremlin, has a long-running feud with the Russian military leadership.
Ukraine’s head of military intelligence says the conflict between the Russian military leadership and mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin is “a frontal clash of lies and truth.”
Kyrylo Budanov told Ukrainian television on Saturday that the conflict stands out because Prigozhin, whether “you like him or not, he mainly says (the) truth” while Russia’s Defense Ministry tells “mainly lies.”
He said that the conflict “is not fake.”
Budanov said that while senior Defense Ministry officials talk of advances with young and brave soldiers, Prigozhin points to miscalculations, poor equipment, lack of training and other problems.
He said: “This is a frontal clash of lies and truth. Even though both completely work in the interest of the Russian Federation, we need to remember this.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the nation Saturday and vowed to defend the country and its people from an armed rebellion declared by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Putin said the mutiny amounted to “a deadly threat to our statehood” and vowed “tough actions” in response. “All those who prepared the rebellion will suffer inevitable punishment. The armed forces and other government agencies have received the necessary orders,” Putin said.
He called Prigozhin’s actions, without referring to the owner of the Wagner private military company by name, “a betrayal” and “a treason.” He urged “those who are being dragged into this crime not to make a fatal and tragic, unique mistake, to make the only right choice — to stop participating in criminal acts.”
Putin condemned the rebellion at a time when Russia was “fighting the toughest battle for its future” with its war in Ukraine. “The entire military, economic and information machine of the West is waged against us,” Putin said.