Monday , June 24 2024

Russian mercenaries turn back short of Moscow ‘to avoid bloodshed’

Heavily armed Russian mercenaries who advanced most of the way to Moscow began turning back on Saturday to avoid bloodshed.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, a former Putin ally and founder of the Wagner army, said his men reached within 125 miles (200 km) of the capital. Earlier, Moscow deployed soldiers in preparation for their arrival and told residents to avoid going out.

The Wagner fighters captured the city of Rostov hundreds of miles to the south before racing in convoy through the country, transporting tanks and armoured trucks and smashing through barricades set up to stop them, video showed.

On Saturday night, Wagner fighters loaded tanks on trailers and began withdrawing from the Rostov military headquarters they had seized, a Reuters witness said.

“In 24 hours we got to within 200 km of Moscow. In this time we did not spill a single drop of our fighters’ blood,” Prigozhin, dressed in full combat uniform at an undisclosed location, said in a video.

“Understanding … that Russian blood will be spilled on one side, we are turning our coluns around and going back to field camps as planned.”

Reuters could not independently verify how far Prigozhin’s mercenaries had reached. Video earlier showed convoys of Wagner vehicles less than 310 miles (500 km) from Moscow.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced on Saturday that he had arranged a deal whereby Wagner Group leader Evgeny Prigozhin will abandon his mutiny in exchange for “security guarantees” for his fighters, according to RT.

“Evgeny Prigozhin accepted the proposal of President Alexander Lukashenko to stop the movement of armed men of Wagner in Russia and take further steps to de-escalate tension,” read a statement from Lukashenko’s office.

According to the statement, Lukashenko and Prigozhin held talks for the “whole day,” and “came to an agreement on the inadmissibility of unleashing a bloodbath on the territory of Russia.”

Putin accused the Wagner chief of “backstabbing our country and our people,” while Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) opened a criminal investigation into Prigozhin for “calling for an armed rebellion.”

Senior Russian political and military figures denounced Prigozhin’s mutiny, and called on Wagner fighters to lay down their arms.

Shortly after Lukashenko’s announcement, Prigozhin confirmed that his troops were abandoning their push to Moscow and returning to their field camps.

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