Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has confirmed he has ordered his mercenaries to halt their march on Moscow and retreat to their field camps in Ukraine to avoid shedding Russian blood.
‘We are turning back our columns and leave in the opposite direction to the field camps according to the plan,’ an audio message on his Telegram feed said.
The announcement from Yevgeny Prigozhin appeared to defuse a growing crisis. Moscow had braced for the arrival of the private army led by the rebellious commander. And President Vladimir Putin had vowed he would face harsh consequences.
Prigozhin said that while his men are just 200 kilometers (120 miles) from Moscow, he decided to turn them back to avoid ‘shedding Russian blood.’
He didn’t say whether the Kremlin has responded to his demand to oust Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin.
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has confirmed he has ordered his mercenaries to halt their march on Moscow to avoid shedding Russian blood
Belarus President and key Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko (pictured) said Yevgeny Prigozhin has accepted his proposal to stop the Wag ner Group’s advance toward Moscow
The shock announcement follows 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 Putin.
Prigozhin has accepted Lukashenko’s offer to halt the Wagner group’s advance and further steps to de-escalate the tensions, Lukashenko’s office said, adding that the proposed settlement contains security guarantees for Wagner troops. It didn’t elaborate.
The surprise reported development comes after a day of complete chaos in Moscow as the city was preparing for war by battening down the hatches as soldiers built outposts and military vehicles flooded the streets.
A total of 5,000 Wagner forces were reportedly advancing toward the capital after the U-turn, and were set to reach as far as Lipetsk this evening.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin is said to have a total of 25,000 men at his disposal and a further 5,000 of them were in Rostov-on-Don, the southern city key to Russia’s war in Ukraine that Prigozhin said he had taken control of.
The convoy that was inching towards Moscow is said to be led by senior Wagner commander 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 were introduced around the Russian capital following a decree from the governor as people were told to refrain from travelling round Moscow.
Prigozhin initiated a military coup against Putin overnight, which has seen the group take key cities and threaten the President, who called them ‘traitors’.
Putin earlier addressed the Russian people, warning that Prigozhin had ‘stabbed him in the back’, as Moscow enters into a lockdown, with troops digging in in preparation to defend the city.
A spokesperson 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 in the direction of St Petersburg. It was reported to have switched off its transponder to prevent tracking the route.
A Russian soldier mans a machine gun post in the south of Moscow, ahead of the expected arrival of Prigozhin and the Wagner troops
Armored vehicles are seen as security measures are taken in Moscow
Machine gun outposts are hastily constructed on the outskirts of Moscow
A Russian Police officer guards the Red Square near the Kremlin as forces brace for an attack
The shock announcemnet from Prigozhin comes after his feared 25,000-strong Wagner militia took control of the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don Saturday, saying they are ‘ready to die’ for their ‘march of justice’, and have been heading north in a hundreds-strong convoy of armoured vehicles.
The unit passed through the halfway city of Voronezh and are soon approaching Lipetsk on their way to Moscow, seeing negligible resistance.
A message posted on the Wagner Telegram channel on Saturday said: ‘Putin made the wrong choice. All the worse for him. Soon we will have a new president.’
Footage on social media has shown large convoys of troops heading north from Voronezh, thought to be Wagner mercenaries. They are also said to be on their way to other key cities including Krasnodar and Volgograd.
Russia has responded by increasing security in Moscow, mobilising troops who are set to defend against the incursion, and calling for the military to rally around President Putin.
All public events have been cancelled and Monday has already been declared a non-working day, as Putin called close ally Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko to brief him on the situation.
Moscow’s mayor has urged people not to take trips across the city, saying the situation is ‘difficult’ and ‘city services are on high alert’.
Sergey Sobyanin also told residents not to go to work on Monday in order to ‘minimise risks’. It came as part of an announcement of a ‘counter-terrorist operation’ in the city.
A line of armoured vehicles are seen as Russian forces prepare to launch a defense of the capital
A traffic police officer checks a car next to an armoured personnel carrier (APC)
Russian troops were seen establishing positions at a bridge across the Oka River
Pro-Putin forces on the outskirts of the city were meanwhile seen digging in against the Wagner coup army heading towards the capital.
Russian troops were pictured establishing positions at a bridge across the Oka River. They deployed barrage equipment, machine guns and grenade launchers, as military helicopters flew across the city.
Other photos showed soldiers setting up barricades and machine gun nests a little way out of the city, as Putin signed into law a measure which allows people to be detained for up to 30 days in areas where marshal is imposed – not that this has yet happened.
Russian officials have also ordered roads to be blocked by large, heavy trucks in the path of the convoy in an effort to slow it down.
Travel has also been restricted in regions closest to Moscow, most recently in the Kalugia area. Movement on the region’s roads will be restricted near bordering regions Tula, Bryansk, Oryol and Smolensk
Eyewitnesses have also reported air strikes on the Wagner convoy heading north.
Shortly after this emerged, Prigozhin claimed it was hit by Russian strikes and fire from helicopters.
‘We were fired upon: first artillery strikes, and then from helicopters,’ Prigozhin said in a Telegram post. Video footage online purports to show an artillery strike on an armoured vehicle in the Wagner procession.
Prigozhin was once known as ‘Putin’s chef’ – now the Wagner boss appears to be waging war on the Kremlin
Footage showed an apparent Russian missile allegedly striking a civilian bus as Wagner forces inched up the M-4 highway today. Prigozhin claimed the apparent shelling showed the cruelty of Putin’s war commanders.
Pictures show the Wagner forces in the Lipetsk region – less than four hours to the outskirts of Moscow.
The column of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s coup armed force is heading north for a showdown with troops still-loyal to dictator Vladimir Putin amid rumours he has absconded from the capital.
The Wagner forces were some 200 miles from Moscow – facing an evening or nighttime showdown with Russian regular forces.