Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner paramilitary group, has agreed to leave Russia for Belarus, the Kremlin said Saturday, in a deal apparently brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko that ends an armed insurrection, which marked the gravest threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authority in decades.
In a conference call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said an agreement was struck with Prigozhin.
“You will ask me what will happen to Prigozhin personally?” Peskov said. “The criminal case will be dropped against him. He himself will go to Belarus.” Peskov added that the Kremlin was unaware of the mercenary’s current whereabouts.
The Wagner boss had earlier turned his troops around “toward our field camps, in accordance with the plan.” Peskov said those troops would face no “legal action” for marching to Moscow, and Wagner fighters will sign contracts with Russia’s Ministry of Defense.
The announcement defuses a crisis that began when Wagner troops took control of a key military facility in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and some fighters advanced towards the capital.
Prigozhin has been publicly critical of Russia’s military leadership and their handling of the war in Ukraine – with few consequences. But he crossed numerous red lines with Putin over the weekend.
A somber-looking Russian president addressed the nation and called Wagner’s actions “a stab in the back of our country and our people.”
The president described events as an insurrection, which he vowed to defeat, and Moscow began to scale up its security measures.
But by Saturday evening, Prigozhin’s calculus appeared to have changed, and the mercenary said his troops, who were 124 miles (200 kilometers) from Moscow, were stopping their advance in order to avoid bloodshed.
Videos, authenticated and geolocated by CNN, also showed Prigozhin and Wagner forces withdrawing from their positions at Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don.
In the video, Prigozhin is seen sitting in the backseat of a vehicle. Crowds cheer and the vehicle comes to a stop as an individual approaches it and shakes Prigozhin’s hand.