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Updated Jun 25, 2023, 8:30am EDT
security

Russian rebel leader says conflict is over

Wagner fighters near the headquarters of the Southern Military District in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, June 24.
REUTERS/Stringer
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The News

The leader of the mercenary Wagner group said he is standing his coup attempt down and turning his forces around from his march to Moscow.

Yevgeny Prigozhin said, “Right now the moment has come when blood could be spilled. Therefore, understanding all the responsibility for the fact that Russian blood will be spilled on one side, we are turning our convoy around and going back to our basecamps, according to the plan.”

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko helped negotiate a deal between Wagner and the Kremlin, Lukashenko’s office said. As part of the deal, Prigozhin will not be prosecuted but will leave Russia for Belarus.

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Russia also retains control of nuclear arms stationed in Belarus, Russian state media TASS reported from the Kremlin. Wagner fighters who participated in the rebellion will not be prosecuted.

The announcement came hours after soldiers from the Russian private mercenary group Wagner clashed with Russian troops even after Russian president Vladimir Putin vowed to punish those on a “path of treason” in his first televised address to the nation following the uprising.

“Those who carry deliberately on a path of treason, preparing an armed rebellion when you were preparing terrorist attacks, will be punished,” Putin said.

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The president also said there would be “decisive actions” for those inciting what the Kremlin is calling an armed rebellion.

Prigozhin claimed control of the southern city Rostov-on-Don and Voronezh, which is halfway between the southern city and Moscow. The New York Times reported Saturday that it had verified videos of fighting near Voronezh.

Putin did not mention Prigozhin by name in his speech, but said that “exorbitant ambitions and personal interests have led to treason.”

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The longstanding feud between the Russian military and Prigozhin over how to wage war in Ukraine appears to have fueled the insurrection by the notorious mercenary group.

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In his speech, Putin said the rebels who were “pushing the country toward anarchy and fratricide” would face “unavoidable punishment.”

“Those who organized and prepared the armed rebellion, those who raised weapons against comrades in arms, betrayed Russia. And they will answer for this,” he added.

He also appealed to Wagner’s forces saying they were “pushed into the provocation” and called for “unity, consolidation, and responsibility.”

In a video, Prigozhin said he would blockade the southern Russian city of Rostov, CNN reported, and move on to Moscow unless Russia’s defense minister met with him in the city.

Putin said he was taking action to stabilize the situation in Rostov, adding, “As president of Russia and the commander in chief, as a citizen of Russia, I will do everything to defend the country.”

Prigozhin responded in another Telegram video Saturday that “the president is sorely mistaken.

“We’re patriots of our motherland. We’ve fought and we’ll continue fighting. All Wagner Group fighters. And none of us is going to turn himself in at the demand of the president, the FSB, or anybody else,” he said.

The Kremlin is apparently attempting to mitigate the coup by directly neutralizing Prigozhin, independent news outlet Meduza reports, with one member of Russia’s legislature now proposing amnesty for Wagnerites who lay down their arms, given their past service in Ukraine.

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The View From Rostov-on-Don

Our partners at Meduza, the independent Russian news outlet that can also be read in English, spoke Saturday to residents of Rostov-on-Don, which is about 1,000 kilometers south of Moscow and close the the Ukrainian border. The city is the regional headquarters of the Russian military, and the center of operations for the Russian military in Southern Ukraine.

One, identified only as Anastasia, said everything was pretty much “as usual” in the heavily militarized border city: “helicopters always fly here and military personnel walk around, nothing new. But in the center, of course, everything is different. I can’t say that helicopters somehow flew more often today... Residents in the city center are standing around taking pictures of tanks.”

Another Rostov-on-Don resident, Daria, said she was frightened as the noise of military equipment grew louder than usual. “At that moment, I thought about what it was like for the people of Ukraine, for whom such a rumble is probably almost silence... I went to bed at about three in the morning, but hardly slept.”

Meduza also reported that an explosion has been reported near official military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don.

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The View From Kiev

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted Saturday that Russia’s chickens are coming home to roost.

“Everyone who chooses the path of evil destroys himself,” he wrote, citing the 1917 collapse of Russia’s external war effort amid the Russian revolution. “The longer Russia keeps its troops and mercenaries on our land, the more chaos, pain, and problems it will have for itself later.”

Deputy Defense Minister Hannah Maliar said on Telegram that the civil conflict presents a “window of opportunity” for Ukraine.

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The View From Moscow

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin on Saturday declared a ”counter-terrorist operation regime" in the capitol. Police now have authority to detain anybody regarded as suspicious, and the internet can be shut down if the situation escalates.

While access in and out of Moscow has not yet been restricted, Meduza reports that the city is apparently preparing for a potential invasion: armored vehicles are reportedly patrolling the streets, and authorities are inspecting bunkers. The Kremlin is also reportedly debating whether to enact a curfew, but no decision has yet been made.

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The View From The White House

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were briefed by their national security team Saturday morning, the White House said.

Biden also spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House is considering scaling back some sanctions against Wagner in an effort to keep them antagonized against Moscow.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken held a phone call with the G7 foreign ministers from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the EU on Saturday, reaffirming the United States’ support for Ukraine during Russia’s security crisis.

“The United States will stay in close coordination with Allies and partners as the situation continues to develop,” a State Department spokesperson said.

Blinken also spoke with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

“Ukraine remains focused on achieving the goals of its counteroffensive in the territory of Ukraine with the steadfast support of our American allies,” Kuleba tweeted after the call.

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The View From Congress

“We are closely monitoring what appears to be a significant internal conflict among Russian forces. We are in touch with the Intelligence Community and Administration as this situation unfolds,” said an initial statement from Sens. Mark Warner and Marco Rubio, who lead the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Rubio later tweeted that Russia is now significantly weaker following the attempted coup.

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The View From Riga

Latvia has closed its borders to Russians seeking to enter the country, the president announced.

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The View From The Gulf

For much of the world, the main consequence of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been the threat to supplies of grain and other commodities.

The Qatari foreign ministry called for “maximum restraint” from all parties Saturday, according to Al Jazeera.

“The foreign ministry warns that escalation in Russia and Ukraine will have negative consequences for international peace and security and will impact food and energy supplies,” it said.

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The View From Fox News

The American right has shifted increasingly toward opposition to Western support for Ukraine. Saturday morning, Fox News host Rachel Campos-Duffy speculated “that we could be behind this attempted coup with the Wagner group, or NATO.”

Campos-Duffy said that when the U.S. invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, “I was one of those people who just sort of believed everything that came out of my government, and now I don’t believe a lot of it.”

“So many lies have been told to us about the war in Ukraine,” she said. “This is why the American people are so weary of our involvement in these conflicts abroad and just want us to wind these things down.”

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