The Russian mercenary group at the center of a brief mutiny against President Vladimir Putin proceeded on Sunday to withdraw troops from areas of southern Russia under its control.
The lightning havoc unleashed by the heavily armed Wagner group, which played a key role in Moscow’s war on Ukraine, ended on Saturday with a deal under which group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin would leave Russia for Belarus , with Moscow dropping the criminal charges against him.
On Sunday, Prigozhin’s rebel troops began withdrawing from the southern Voronezh region, located along a highway that the Wagner group wanted to use to march on Moscow.
« The movement of Wagner units through the Voronezh region is coming to an end, » Voronezh governor Alexander Gusev said, according to AFP news agency.
Even in Rostov-on-Don, a Russian city near the Ukrainian border conquered by Wagner on Saturday, there are signs of military easing. Chechen special forces, deployed in the Rostov region on Saturday, were withdrawing, according to Russia’s state news agency TASS, quoting 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 strategically crucial for Putin as it serves as the main rearguard logistics hub for Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov insisted on Sunday that his elite troops were ready to put down the Wagner rebellion in Rostov-on-Don. « Our boys have shown high levels of preparation and readiness to defend their 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 on Sunday for an unannounced meeting. Chinese state media said in a brief report that Rudenko’s meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang focused on « international and regional issues of common concern ». The meeting was barely mentioned in any Russian media coverage.
Meanwhile, US media reported that the US intelligence community saw signs of Chief Wagner’s plot ahead of his move on Friday. Senior US military and administration officials were briefed earlier in the week that Prigozhin was preparing to take military action against Moscow, according to officials quoted by The New York Times and CNN.