The Wagner forces withdraw as Putin is weakened by the Russian uprising

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Russian warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin and his troops pulled out of southern Russia on Sunday after agreeing with Moscow to end his armed insurgency after the biggest crisis of Vladimir Putin’s presidency.

Prizogin himself kept a rare silence after ending his uprising on Saturday night, although the Kremlin said he would travel to Belarus after the country’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko, brokered a deal to end the uprising.

Prigozhin’s press office told Russia’s RTVI on Sunday afternoon that the warlord “greets everyone and answers questions when he feels comfortable. [cell phone] reception”. According to video footage published by the Russian state news agency RIA, he left the city of Rostov-on-Don on Saturday night, showing supporters of the head of the Wagner Group.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that the uprising showed “real cracks” in Putin’s authority. “This raises profound questions. . . We know Putin has a lot to answer for in the weeks and months ahead,” Blinken said.

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Blinken called the crisis an “unfolding story” and added: “I think we’re in the middle of a moving picture. We haven’t seen the last act.”

According to the authorities in southern Russia, Wagner’s troops are withdrawing from the region. At 11 a.m. local time, Alexander Gusev, governor of the Voronezh region, wrote on his official Telegram channel that “the movement . . . Wagner units passing through the Voronezh region will soon end. It is proceeding normally and without incident.”

The Wagner fighters are preparing to withdraw from Rostov-on-Don on Saturday
Crowds line the streets as Wagner fighters prepare to withdraw from Rostov-on-Don on Saturday © Roman Romokhov/AFP/Getty Images

This was confirmed by video footage posted elsewhere on Telegram, showing several Wagner-flagged military vehicles heading from the northern outskirts of the city of Voronezh to Rostov-on-Don at dawn, reversing the route taken from Ukraine on Saturday.

At 1:00 p.m., the officials of the Lipetsk region announced that the Wagner troops had also left this area, closer to Moscow.

According to the official broadcaster of the Chechen Republic, Chechen special forces began their withdrawal from Rostov towards the Ukrainian frontline on Sunday. These fighters did not reach the city center of Rostov, where the Wagner forces were located, and did not engage in hostilities with the other militias. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov assessed their actions as “extremely effective and thoughtful”.

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The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said on Sunday that the Kremlin “struggled for coherence in an effective rapid response to Wagner’s advance, likely due to surprise and the heavy impact of losses in Ukraine.”

“Wagner could probably have reached the outskirts of Moscow if Prigozhin decided to order them to do so,” the group said, adding that the events would “likely significantly damage Putin’s government and the Russian war effort in Ukraine.”

The head of Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, will leave Rostov on Saturday
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Wagner, leaves Rostov on Saturday © Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov were also silent on Sunday. The pair were the targets of Prigozhin’s tirade in the months leading up to the coup attempt, as the warlord claimed they were withholding ammunition from his fighters in Ukraine, where they were central to the invasion force.

Wagner, the largest private militia fighting in Ukraine, recruited thousands of convicts from Russian prisons. The Kremlin said on Saturday that the Wagner Forces would withdraw from Russia when they began, that those who took part in the rebellion would not be prosecuted, while those who did not would be offered contracts with the Russian Defense Ministry.

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Blinken said Washington was prepared for “any eventuality,” but added: “We have seen no change in Russia’s nuclear posture. Nothing has changed in ours. But we’ll be watching that very, very carefully.”

He said State Department officials “had some sort of contact with the Russians over the weekend,” but declined to say whether US President Joe Biden or CIA Director Bill Burns wanted to contact their Russian counterparts.