The Russian mercenary group at the center of a short-lived mutiny against President Vladimir Putin proceeded on Sunday with troop withdrawal from areas in southern Russia under its control.
The lightning chaos wreaked by the heavily armed Wagner Group, which has played a key role in Moscow’s war against Ukraine, ended with a deal on Saturday under which group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin would leave Russia for Belarus, with Moscow revoking criminal charges against him.
On Sunday, Prigozhin’s rebel troops started pulling out of Russia’s southern Voronezh region, which is situated along a highway that the Wagner Group wanted to use to march on Moscow.
“The movement of Wagner units through the Voronezh region is ending,” Voronezh Governor Alexander Gusev said, according to AFP news agency.
At Rostov-on-Don, a Russian city close to the Ukrainian border that was seized by Wagner on Saturday, there are also signs of military de-escalation. The Chechen special forces, which were deployed to the Rostov region Saturday, were withdrawing, according to Russian state-run TASS news agency, citing a commander.
Prigozhin, who was seen leaving Rostov on Saturday night, had captured the headquarters of Russia’s Southern Military District in the city without, he said, firing a shot. The area is crucial for Putin strategically as it serves as the main rear logistical hub for the Russian war in Ukraine.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov insisted on Sunday that his elite troops had been poised to quash the Wagner rebellion in Rostov-on-Don. “Our guys showed high levels of preparedness and readiness to defend the homeland at any cost,” he said in a message on Telegram. “Praise be to Allah, the situation ended without a direct confrontation.”
Amid international speculation about Putin’s stability, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko visited China for a previously unannounced meeting on Sunday. Chinese state media said in a brief report that Rudenko’s meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang focused on the “international and regional issues of common concern.” The meeting was barely mentioned in any coverage in the Russian media.
Meanwhile, U.S. media outlets reported that the American intelligence community saw signs of the Wagner chief’s plot before his move on Friday. Senior U.S. military and administration officials were briefed earlier in the week that Prigozhin was preparing to take military action against Moscow, according to officials cited by the New York Times and CNN.