The dispute with Wagner Group owner Yevgeny Prigozhin is seen by Russian President Vladimir Putin as the biggest threat to his 22-year rule.
Rebel Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group were on their way to the capital before their leader Yevgeny Prigozhin ordered them to return to their base to avoid bloodshed.
The latest incident with Prigogine was the biggest threat President Vladimir Putin has faced in his 22-year rule amid a months-long standoff with Russia’s defense ministry over fighting in Ukraine.
The group rose to prominence after taking an increasingly visible role in the war in Ukraine, including raising the Russian flag in the town of Bakhmut after months of fighting.
Here’s a timeline of how events have unfolded since Friday:
- Prigozhin released a video to escalate his dispute with Russia’s military top brass and, for the first time, rejected Putin’s main rationale for invading Ukraine.
- In a series of subsequent audio recordings posted on Telegram, Prigozhin said the “evil” of Russia’s military leadership should “stop” and that his Wagner mercenaries would lead a “march for justice” against the Russian military.
- Russia’s FSB security service responded by opening a criminal case against Prigogine, with the 62-year-old calling for armed rebellion against the state.
- General Sergei Surovykin, the deputy commander of Russia’s Ukraine campaign, called on Wagner’s forces to abandon opposition to the military leadership and return to their bases.
- Prigogine said his men had crossed the border from Ukraine into Russia and were ready to go “all-out” against the Russian military.
- Wagner’s fighters entered the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, Prigozhin said in an audio recording posted on Telegram.
- The governor of Russia’s southern Rostov region, which borders Ukraine, told residents to stay calm and stay indoors as it became clear that Wagner’s forces had taken control of the town.
- Prigozhin said his fighters had captured army headquarters in Rostov-on-Don “without firing a shot” and claimed to have local support.
- Russia’s Defense Ministry issued a statement appealing to Wagner’s fighters to leave Prigogine, saying they had been “deceived and dragged into a criminal adventure”.
- Putin gave a televised address vowing to crush what he called an “armed rebellion”. He accused Prigogine of “betrayal” and “backstabbing”.
- Russian military helicopters fired on a convoy of rebel mercenaries more than halfway to Moscow in a lightning advance after capturing Rostov overnight.
- Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency, said it was clear that Prigozhin’s attempts to destabilize society and fan the flames of fratricidal civil war had failed, Tass news agency reported.
- Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a Putin ally, said his forces were ready to help suppress Prigozhin’s rebellion and use harsher measures if necessary.
- According to photos published by the Vedomosti newspaper, Russian soldiers have set up a machine gun position on the southwest edge of Moscow.
- The White House said US President Joe Biden had spoken with the leaders of France, Germany and the UK and they confirmed their support for Ukraine.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the armed uprising led by Wagner a clear sign of Putin’s weakness and his invasion of Ukraine.
- Putin signed a law allowing 30-day detention where martial law has been imposed, the RIA news agency reported.
- Wagner’s tenants have been promised amnesty if they put down their weapons “but they should do it quickly”, the TASS news agency quoted lawmaker Pavel Krashennikov as saying.
- Russia’s Foreign Ministry has warned Western countries against using Russia’s domestic situation to achieve their Russophobic goals.
- Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s office said he had reached a deal with Prigozhin who agreed to ease the situation.
- Prigozhin and all his fighters evacuate the Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don.
- Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a coup attempt by Wagner would not affect a military invasion of Ukraine.
- Prigogine will now go and live in Belarus and face no charges. Wagner fighters who did not participate in the March to Moscow will be offered military contracts.