Reports emerge of Kremlin deal to drop charges against rebellious Russian mercenary leader in exchange for exile

June 25, 2023
Ben Marquis

Over the weekend, it appeared that an armed uprising involving the elite and experienced Russian mercenary Wagner Group, led by oligarch owner and commanding officer Yevgeny Prigozhin, was marching on Moscow to purportedly overthrow the leaders of the Kremlin's Ministry of Defense -- if not Russian President Vladimir Putin himself.

The supposed "coup" and "mutiny" seemingly ended within about 24 hours, however, and reports now claim that a deal was reached for the Kremlin to drop criminal charges against Prigozhin and his troops in exchange for the leader's exile to neighboring Belarus, the Daily Wire reported.

That news comes after Prigozhin's Wagner troops reportedly seized control of the southern Russian city of Rostov and its regional military headquarters and then advanced northward to within nearly 100 miles of Moscow before suddenly stopping and turning back to return to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Deal negotiated to end Wagner Group threat against Moscow

Axios reported Saturday that Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Russian President Putin, intervened and negotiated a deal to halt the march toward Moscow by Prigozhin and his well-armed and mechanized Wagner Group mercenaries.

The deal reportedly involves Prigozhin going into exile in Belarus in exchange for the Kremlin dropping all criminal charges against him and his troops who participated in the purported mutiny aimed at ousting senior Russian military leaders with whom Prigozhin had feuded since nearly the outset of the Ukraine conflict.

In addition, the agreement also seemingly involves the disbandment of the Wagner Group while allowing its troops who did not participate in the alleged uprising to sign contracts to join the regular Russian military.

The outlet noted that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a statement that the "higher goal" of the negotiated deal was to "avoid bloodshed, to avoid an internal confrontation, to avoid clashes with unpredictable consequences."

Prigozhin's problems with Russian military leadership

The Associated Press reported that Russian oligarch Prigozhin, once known as "Putin's chef" for his exclusive catering contracts with the Kremlin, was previously a close ally of Russian President Putin whose Wagner Group mercenaries were used as a sort of private army to conduct unofficial military action in various African and Middle Eastern nations in addition to Ukraine and other locales.

Indeed, throughout the current conflict in Ukraine, the Wagner Group has essentially been utilized as the "tip of the spear" by the Russian military and has been involved in some of the heaviest fighting, including most recently in the prolonged and bloody siege of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

That led to repeated complaints from Prigozhin over the past several months about his private force being deliberately misused and purposefully denied sufficient ammunition and supplies by the Russian Ministry of Defense, which he accused of being incompetent and aligned against him.

Prigozhin's march on Moscow

Things came to a head on Friday when Prigozhin further accused senior Russian military leaders of launching deadly artillery and rocket strikes against Wagner encampments that killed "a huge number of our comrades" and prompted his move toward Moscow, ostensibly to oust Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and other top generals.

By Saturday morning, Wagner Group forces had seemingly captured without a fight the city of Rostov and its important regional military headquarters -- which has command and control over the Russian forces deployed in Ukraine -- as part of the purported advance on the Ministry of Defense in Moscow's Kremlin.

Meanwhile, President Putin denounced the move by Prigozhin and his troops as a "betrayal" and "treason," and drastic measures were immediately undertaken to establish and reinforce defensive measures south of the capital city, including the rapid deployment of armored vehicles, checkpoints with machinegun emplacements, hastily prepared trenchworks, and the shifting of thousands of Russian military troops to defensive positions.

If all of the reports are true, it would appear that this potential challenge to the leadership of the Ministry of Defense and Putin himself has been checked, though details are still developing and news out of Russia is notoriously difficult to believe or to differentiate actual facts from propaganda.

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