Russian Mercenaries Withdraw from Wagner Mutiny, Raising Questions about Putin’s Future

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REUTERS/Stringer

Heavily armed Wagner group retreats from Rostov, ending their advance on Moscow and sparking concerns about Putin’s grip on power.

MOSCOW – In an unexpected turn of events, heavily armed Russian mercenaries belonging to the Wagner group have withdrawn from the southern Russian city of Rostov. This retreat comes as part of a deal that defused a significant challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s authority and halted the mercenaries’ rapid advance on Moscow. While the withdrawal has temporarily diffused the situation, it has also raised significant questions about Putin’s control over the country.

Under the agreement mediated by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, the fighters of the Wagner group returned to their bases, and their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is set to relocate to Belarus. The deal also ensured their safety. However, this aborted mutiny has shattered the “myth” of Russian unity, according to Italy’s foreign minister. The implications of this event are profound and will undoubtedly affect Putin’s rule, which has been characterized by an iron grip for over two decades.

The fact that Putin has not publicly commented on the situation since the deal was struck further adds to the speculation surrounding his control. State television did release excerpts of an interview where Putin emphasized the conflict in Ukraine as his top priority, but it is believed to have been recorded before the mutiny, as he made no reference to the recent events. State television did mention Putin’s plan to attend a meeting of Russia’s Security Council, which will likely shed some light on the situation.

Prigozhin, the 62-year-old former Putin ally and convict, was seen leaving the district military headquarters in Rostov and heading to Belarus. However, his current whereabouts remain unknown. The departure of the Wagner group from Rostov, especially after their rapid advance, has drawn concern from Western leaders, given Russia’s possession of the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. The foreign ministry in Moscow reported that China, a crucial Putin ally, expressed support for the Russian leadership. However, China has not publicly commented on the mutiny.

Prigozhin cited corrupt and incompetent Russian commanders as the reason for his decision to advance on Moscow. His goal was to remove these commanders, whom he blamed for the mishandling of the war in Ukraine. After capturing Rostov, the main rear logistical hub for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the mercenaries quickly made their way north, transporting tanks and armored trucks, breaking through barricades set up to stop them. Ultimately, a deal was reached for their withdrawal.

REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

The withdrawal of Russian mercenaries and their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, from Rostov highlights the challenges to President Vladimir Putin’s authority

Videos shared on social media depicted the mercenaries leaving Rostov in a convoy of armored vehicles, tanks, and coaches, while residents cheered and chanted “Wagner” in support. The public display of support for the short-lived insurrection will alarm authorities in a country increasingly intolerant of criticism against Putin and his rule.

The situation in Moscow remained calm, with increased security measures in place. The capital had advised residents to stay indoors and deployed soldiers in anticipation of the mercenaries’ arrival. However, little pushback from the regular armed forces was observed. Chechen special forces, who were deployed to resist the mercenaries’ advance, also announced their withdrawal back to the fighting in Ukraine.

REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

The deal brokered between the parties involved, including the dropping of criminal charges against Prigozhin for armed mutiny, suggests concessions were made to ensure the withdrawal of the mercenaries. Putin’s personal guarantee of safety for Prigozhin and his men played a crucial role in persuading them to withdraw. Prigozhin had accused the Defense Minister and the chief of the general staff of incompetence and withholding ammunition from his fighters during battles in Ukraine.

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The events surrounding the withdrawal of the Wagner group highlight the challenges to Putin’s authority and the unity of Russia. The rebellion and its subsequent handling have exposed vulnerabilities within the Russian military and political establishment. The fallout from this incident will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on the country’s dynamics and Putin’s rule. As the situation develops, it remains to be seen how Putin will address the concerns raised by this mutiny and restore a sense of stability within the nation.