Wagner’s boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, confirmed that he ordered his mercenaries to stop their march on Moscow and retreat to their camps in Ukraine to avoid shedding Russian blood.
“We are turning our columns and moving in the opposite direction to the field camps according to the plan,” an audio message on his Telegram stream said.
Yevgeny Prigozhin’s announcement appeared to defuse a growing crisis. Moscow had been preparing for the arrival of the private army led by the rebel commander and President Vladimir Putin had sworn he would face harsh consequences.
Prigozhin said that although his men were only 200 kilometers (120 miles) from Moscow, he decided to turn them back to avoid “shedding Russian blood”.
He did not say whether the Kremlin responded to his request to oust Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin.
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin confirmed he ordered his mercenaries to stop marching on Moscow to avoid shedding Russian blood
A Russian police officer guards Red Square near the Kremlin as forces prepare for an attack ahead of the sensational retreat of Prigozhin forces
A Russian soldier mans a machine gun post in southern Moscow earlier, before the expected arrival of Prigozhin and Wagner’s troops. But Prigozhin confirmed that he ordered his mercenaries to stop their march
Belarusian President and key Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko (pictured) says Yevgeny Prigozhin had accepted his offer to halt the Wagner Group’s advance towards Moscow
The shock announcement follows a statement from the office of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko saying he brokered a deal with Prigozhin after discussing the issue with Putin.
Prigozhin accepted Lukashenko’s offer to halt the Wagner Group’s advance and further steps to defuse tensions, Lukashenko’s office said, adding that the proposed settlement contains security guarantees for Wagner’s troops. He did not specify.
The surprising development reported comes after a day of utter chaos in Moscow as the city prepared for war by battening down the hatches as soldiers built outposts and military vehicles flooded the streets.
A total of 5,000 Wagner soldiers would have advanced towards the capital after the U-turn and were to reach Lipetsk that evening.
Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin is said to have a total of 25,000 men at his disposal and another 5,000 were in Rostov-on-Don, the key southern city in Russia’s war in Ukraine which Prigozhin said he took control .
The slow-moving convoy to Moscow would be led by Senior Commander Wagner and neo-Nazi Dmitry Utkin. A source said Wagner’s plan for Moscow was to take up positions in a densely built-up area.
A number of restrictions have been introduced around the Russian capital following a governor’s decree, with people being asked to refrain from traveling around Moscow.
Prigozhin launched a military coup against Putin overnight, which saw the group take key towns and threaten the president, who branded them “traitors”.
Putin earlier addressed the Russian people, warning that Prigozhin had ‘stabbed him in the back’, as Moscow enters a lockdown, with troops preparing to defend the city.
A spokesman for the Russian president said Putin was still at work in the Kremlin and had not fled Moscow. However, two presidential jets were seen flying from Moscow towards St Petersburg. He reportedly turned off his transponder to prevent tracking of the route.
Armored vehicles are seen as security measures are taken in Moscow
Machine gun outposts are hastily built on the outskirts of Moscow
Prigozhin’s shock announcement comes after his 25,000 strong Wagner militia took control of the city of Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia, on Saturday, saying they were “ready to die” for their “march of justice”, and headed north in a convoy of hundreds of armored vehicles.
The unit passed through the town halfway through Voronezh and soon approached Lipetsk en route to Moscow, seeing negligible resistance.
A message posted on the Wagner Telegram channel on Saturday said: “Putin made the wrong choice. Too bad for him. Soon we will have a new president.
Images on social media showed large troop convoys heading north from Voronezh, believed to be Wagner’s mercenaries. They are also believed to be on their way to other key cities including Krasnodar and Volgograd.
Russia responded by tightening security in Moscow, mobilizing troops ready to defend against the incursion and calling on the military to rally behind President Putin.
All public events have been canceled and Monday has already been declared a holiday, with Putin calling his close ally Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to brief him on the situation.
The mayor of Moscow urged people not to travel around the city, saying the situation was “difficult” and that “city services are on high alert”.
Sergey Sobianine also told residents not to go to work on Monday in order to “minimize the risks”. This was part of an announcement of an “anti-terrorist operation” in the city.
A line of armored vehicles is seen as Russian forces prepare to launch a defense of the capital
A traffic policeman checks a car next to an armored personnel carrier (APC)
Russian troops were seen establishing positions on a bridge over the Oka River
Meanwhile, pro-Putin forces on the outskirts of the city were seen digging in against Wagner’s coup army heading towards the capital.
Russian troops were photographed establishing positions on a bridge crossing the Oka River. They deployed barrage equipment, machine guns and grenade launchers, while military helicopters flew over the city.
Other photos showed soldiers setting up barricades and machine gun nests a little outside the city, as Putin enacted a measure that allows people to be detained for up to 30 days in areas where the marshal is imposed – not that it has happened yet.
Russian authorities also ordered roads to be blocked with large heavy trucks in the path of the convoy in an effort to slow it down.
Travel has also been restricted in areas closest to Moscow, most recently in the Kalugia region. Traffic on roads in the region will be restricted near the bordering regions of Tula, Bryansk, Orel and Smolensk
Eyewitnesses also reported airstrikes on the Wagner convoy heading north.
Shortly after appearing, Prigozhin claimed he was hit by Russian strikes and helicopter fire.
“We were fired upon: first artillery strikes, then helicopters,” Prigozhin said in a Telegram post. Video footage online purports to show an artillery strike on an armored vehicle in Wagner’s motorcade.
Prigozhin was once known as ‘Putin’s boss’ – now Wagner’s boss seems to be waging war on the Kremlin
Footage showed an apparent Russian missile reportedly hitting a civilian bus as Wagner’s forces moved up the M-4 highway today. Prigozhin claimed the apparent shelling showed the ruthlessness of Putin’s war commanders.
The images show Wagner’s forces in the Lipetsk region – less than four hours from the outskirts of Moscow.
Yevgeny Prigozhin’s putschist armed force column is heading north for a confrontation with troops still loyal to dictator Vladimir Putin amid rumors he has fled the capital.
Wagner’s forces were about 200 miles from Moscow – facing night or night confrontation with Russian regular forces.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke to Western allies about the armed rebellion led by the Wagner mercenary group in Russia, which British defense officials described as “the most significant challenge” to the Kremlin in recent times.
Mr Sunak spoke on Saturday afternoon with US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz “to discuss the situation in Russia and reiterate their continued support for Ukrainian sovereignty”, said Downing Street.