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Wagner Group chief says his mercenaries will halt their march on Moscow

Members of Wagner Group inspect a car in a street of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Saturday.
Stringer
/
AFP via Getty Images
Members of Wagner Group inspect a car in a street of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Saturday.

Updated June 24, 2023 at 4:36 PM ET

MOSCOW — The head of the Wagner mercenary group said his forces were ending a march on the Russian capital after demanding the resignation of the country's top defense officials over alleged failures in the war in Ukraine.

In a statement to his Telegram social media account, Yevgeny Prigozhin said his fighters had led a "march for justice" over the past 24 hours that saw them travel from the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don to the outskirts of Moscow.

"The whole time, not one drop of blood of our fighters was spilled," Prigozhin said. "But now the moment has arrived when blood could be spilt."

To avoid such a scenario, Prigozhin said he had ordered his forces to "turn our columns around and go in the opposite direction back to a field camp as planned."

The sudden about-face appeared to hit pause on a political crisis that grew out of months of infighting between Russia's top brass and Prigozhin over the state of the military campaign in Ukraine.

In defusing the crisis, the Kremlin also appeared to get an assist from its ally — Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

Shortly after Prigozhin's announcement, the Kremlin said the Wagner boss will not be charged for his role in the aborted mutiny and will instead "go to Belarus." Russian authorities will not prosecute those Wagner troops who took part in the uprising, a spokesperson said.

Lukashenko's press office said, with the Kremlin's permission, that the Belarusian leader had carried out negotiations with Prigozhin "throughout the entire day" aimed at deescalating the feud between Wagner and the Russian military.

"As a result, they came to an agreement on the unacceptability of the start of bloody battles on Russian territory," the statement said.

The Wagner troops who didn't take part in the uprising will sign contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defense, a Kremlin spokesperson said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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