While the war in Ukraine rages, Russian President Vladimir Putin faced a threat of his rule after the Wagner mercenary group launched an apparent mutiny on Friday against the Russian armed forces.
The group, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, captured the military headquarters at the city of Rostov-on-Dov, then made its way to Moscow, but backed off from their plan on Saturday night when it seemed like the civil war in Russia is inevitable.
Wagner chief and a former Putin ally, Prigozhin said,,in a video message, that his group had decided to halt its movement in order to prevent bloodshed.
“In 24 hours we got to within 200 km of Moscow. In this time we did not spill a single drop of our fighters’ blood,” Mr Prigozhin said.
“Understanding that Russian blood will be spilled on one side, we are turning our columns around and going back to field camps as planned.”
Mr Prigozhin, on Friday, accused the leaders of Russian military of launching a deadly missile on his troops, and he vowed to “march for justice” to topple the military leadership.
It was reported Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko played a key role in stopping Prigozhin and Wagner from reaching Moscow. A Kremlin spokesperson said the criminal cases opened against Prigozhin armies would be dropped, and no action would be taken.
Earlier, Russian President Putin, in a televised address, pledged punishment for those behind armed insurrection, and described the action as “a stab in the back of our country and our people”.
“We will protect our people and our statehood from any threats, including betrayal at home,” President Putin said.
“And what we’ve encountered now is betrayal, plain and simple. It is a blow to Russia, to our people. And our actions to defend the fatherland from such a threat will be severe.
“They will be held accountable under the law and before our people. The armed forces and other government agencies have received necessary orders.”
Quickly after the news circulated, political leaders across the world took to social media to react to the Russian situation. Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong was amomng those to react.
“Australia is closely monitoring developments in Russia. The security situation is evolving and we are working closely with partners,” Minister Wong tweeted.
What is Wagner Group?
The ‘Wagner group’, officially known as PMC Wagner, is a private military company based in Russia. The group, founded in 2014, is a network of mercenaries and a de facto private army of Yevgeny Prigozhin. Wagner has played a key role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where it has been reportedly deployed to assassinate Ukranian leaders. In December 2022, United States National Security claimed the Wagner group had over 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts. It has been reported the Wagner group also recruites the prisoners in Russia as their fighters.
Although, the group does not represent any ideology, its activities have been linked to white supremacist and neo-Nazi far-right extremists. The group has been perceived not as a private military company, but a part of Russian Ministry of Defence that ultimately reports to Russian government. The group came to prominence during the Donbas war in Ukraine, where it helped pro-Russian separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics from 2014 to 2015. Its contractors have reportedly taken part in various conflicts around the world, including the civil wars in Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, and Mali, often fighting on the side of forces aligned with the Russian government.