Rebel Russian Wagner mercenaries halt advance on Moscow as Kremlin says fighters will face no action.
After abandoning his forces’ advance on Moscow, the leader of the dissident Wagner mercenary group will travel to Belarus and won’t be held accountable, according to the Russian authorities, alleviating the nation’s worst security crisis in decades.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner, and Russia’s military command have been at odds for some time.
On Saturday, his soldiers captured a significant army headquarters in southern Russia before moving up north to threaten the capital.
Following Prigozhin’s about-face, the Kremlin declared that he would depart for Belarus and that Russia would not bring charges against either him or Wagner’s members.
President Vladimir Putin had issued a warning against civil war, Moscow had ordered residents to remain off the streets.
The tide shifted suddenly when Prigozhin made the stunning announcement that his troops were “turning our columns around and going back to field camps” to avoid bloodshed in the Russian capital.
Prigozhin, who has feuded bitterly with Moscow’s military leadership even as his outfit led parts of Russia’s Ukraine offensive, said he understood the importance of the moment and did not want to “spill Russian blood”.
By early Sunday, Wagner had pulled fighters and equipment from Rostov-on-Don, where they had seized the military headquarters, said the regional governor.
But before they left, dozens of residents were cheering and chanting “Wagner! Wagner!” outside the military headquarters they had captured.
Authorities in the southern Lipetsk region announced the lifting of restrictions after earlier reporting Wagner fighters in their territory, where the local capital is 420 kilometres (260 miles) south of Moscow.
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said he had negotiated a truce with Prigozhin, drawing thanks from Moscow.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later told reporters that the “criminal case against him (Prigozhin) will be dropped. He himself will go to Belarus.”
Peskov also said that members of Wagner who had taken part in what authorities termed an “armed rebellion” would not be prosecuted.
“Avoiding bloodshed, internal confrontation, and clashes with unpredictable results was the highest goal,” Peskov added.