Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s Presidential Administration, said Wagner private military company boss Yevgeny Prigozhin's escalation "almost nullified" Russian President Vladimir Putin, and criticized Prigozhin for turning his forces around from a march toward Moscow and reaching an apparent deal.
“Prigozhin's phenomenal choice... You almost nullified Putin, took control of the central authorities, reached Moscow and suddenly... you retreat," Podolyak said in a tweet posted in English. "Because one very specific intermediary with a dubious reputation #Lukashenko promised security guarantees from the person #Putin who ordered to destroy you in the morning. And for the fear that the Putin elite has experienced in the past 24 hours, this order will certainly be executed."
He added, “Although not without benefit: #Prigozhin humiliated Putin/the state and showed that there is no longer a monopoly on violence."
5:42 p.m. ET, June 24, 2023
Kremlin unaware of Prigozhin's current whereabouts, spokesperson says
From CNN's Anna Chernova
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Saturday he was unaware of the current whereabouts of Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Peskov also said he “cannot answer the question” of what position Prigozhin will take in Belarus and what he will be doing there.
A new video posted on Telegram and geolocated and confirmed by CNN showed Prigozhin leaving a Russian military headquarters in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.
7:43 p.m. ET, June 24, 2023
Blinken calls Ukrainian, Turkish and Polish foreign ministers to discuss situation in Russia
From CNN's Philip Wang
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday called Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau to discuss the situation in Russia, according to statements from State Department.
Blinken reiterated that the US will stay in close coordination with allies and partners as the situation develops. He also underscored that US support for Ukraine will not change.
What we know: Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin on Friday accused Russia’s military of attacking a Wagner camp and killing a “huge amount” of his men. He vowed to retaliate with force, insinuating that his forces would “destroy” any resistance, including roadblocks and aircraft.
By Saturday, Prigozhin announced that he was turning his forces around from a march toward Moscow shortly after the Belarusian government claimed President Alexander Lukashenko had reached a deal with Prigozhin to halt the advance. Prigozhin said the move was in accordance with an unspecified plan and intended to avoid Russian bloodshed.
5:49 p.m. ET, June 24, 2023
Prigozhin and Wagner Group forces seen leaving Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don
From CNN’s Paul P. Murphy
Wagner private military company boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has left Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don in southwestern Russia, new video shows.
The video, posted to Telegram, and geolocated and authenticated by CNN, shows Prigozhin 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.
He is heard saying “All the best” to the people gathered before the vehicle drives off.
Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti quoted an unnamed eyewitness that said Prigozhin left the headquarters “with the fighters.”
It’s the first time Prigozhin has been seen in public since he announced that his troops would “turn back” from Moscow and return to “field camps.” It is unclear where Prigozhin is currently en route to, but per the apparent deal, he is expected to be sent to Belarus and not face any criminal charges.
The video follows other clips posted to Telegram, also geolocated and authenticated by CNN, that show Wagner forces withdrawing from their positions at the military headquarters, crowds surrounding a Wagner vehicle convoy and people cheering the forces after it was announced they would turn back.
Before the Wagner forces were seen leaving, video from Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti showed a Russian military police vehicle arriving at the military headquarters.
5:00 p.m. ET, June 24, 2023
Prigozhin was never real threat to Putin, former Russian parliament member says
From CNN’s Sofia Cox
Former Russian member of Parliament Sergey Markov described Wagner private military company boss Yevgeny Prigozhin as "extremely aggressive" but said he was never a threat to Putin.
“They support Prigozhin fighting against Ukrainian army but not against Vladimir Putin,” Markov told CNN's Christiane Amanpour late Saturday local time, citing Putin's popularity now being at “about 80%."
Markov said that it was "really good news" that Prigozhin had ordered Wagner mercenary columns to turn back from an advance toward Moscow, adding that "a lot of Moscow are happy about this.”
Markov told Amanpour that he had been expecting a deal like the one allegedly negotiated by Belarusian President Lukashenko to happen, as both Russian sides in the conflict were “in a deadlock.”
“That’s why a lot of Russian militarists see Wagner fighters not as enemies but as real heroes because they don’t want to take part in the military clashes between them," Markov said.
4:29 p.m. ET, June 24, 2023
Kremlin says Wagner fighters will return to base and sign contracts with military
From CNN's Anna Chernova
In a conference call with reporters, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov provided details about what he described as an agreement struck with Yevgeny Prigozhin, the boss of the Wagner private military company, to halt a march of his forces toward Moscow.
"An agreement was reached on the return of PMC Wagner to their locations. Part of those who will wish to do so, will sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense — this concerns those who did not take part in the march, indeed, there were such formations which, from the very beginning, changed their minds and returned. They even requested to be escorted by the traffic police and other assistance in order to return to their permanent locations," he said.
Wagner fighters will not face legal action for taking part in the march, Peskov added, saying that the Kremlin has "always respected their heroic deeds" on the front lines in Ukraine.
Prighozhin has provided scant details about his agreement to about-face. Peskov said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was able to draw on a personal relationship with Prigozhin to broker the deal.
"The fact is that Alexander Grigoryevich [Lukashenko] has known Prigozhin personally for a long time, for about 20 years," Peskov said. "And it was his personal proposal, which was agreed with Putin. We are grateful to the President of Belarus for these efforts."
Earlier this month, Prigozhin had refused to sign contracts with Russia’s Defense Ministry, rejecting an attempt to bring his force in line. The defense ministry said that “volunteer units” and private military groups would be required to sign a contract.
4:34 p.m. ET, June 24, 2023
Case against Prigozhin will be dropped and he will be sent to Belarus, Kremlin spokesperson says
From CNN's Anna Chernova
Criminal charges against Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin will be dropped and he will be sent to neighboring Belarus, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.
"You will ask me what will happen to Prigozhin personally?" Peskov said in a conference call with reporters Saturday. "The criminal case will be dropped against him. He himself will go to Belarus."
Peskov's office later added in a text message to journalists that Prigozhin has a guarantee from Russian President Vladimir Putin to leave the country as part of the deal brokered to halt the march of Wagner forces toward Moscow.
“If you ask what kind of guarantee there is that Prigozhin will be able to leave for Belarus, this is the word of the President of Russia," Peskov's office said. "The counter-terrorist operation regime will be lifted in the nearest future."
The announcement comes as the Belarusian government claimed President Alexander Lukashenko had reached a deal with the Wagner boss to halt the march of his forces on Moscow. Prigozhin said the move was in accordance with an unspecified plan and intended to avoid Russian bloodshed.
If you're just now reading in, here's what you should know:
How we got here: Prigozhin on Friday accused Russia’s military of attacking a Wagner camp and killing a “huge amount” of his men. He vowed to retaliate with force, insinuating that his forces would “destroy” any resistance, including roadblocks and aircraft.
By Saturday, Igor Artamonov, governor of the southwestern Russian region of Lipetsk, said Wagner equipment was moving across the region's territory. Russian military also carried out “combat measures” in the southern Russia city of Voronezh, the region's governor said, in light of Prigozhin's claim Saturday to have seized control of key military facilities in the Voronezh and Rostov regions.
Precautions taken: Artamonov said authorities in Lipetsk were "taking all necessary measures to ensure the safety of the population" as he implied that roads had been dug up by Wagner fighters. In Moscow, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin confirmed that a "counter-terrorist regime" was declared in the city and also declared Monday a "non-working day." Russian authorities earlier offered amnesty to Wagner mercenaries who agreed to lay down their arms, a lawmaker from the State Duma told Russian state media TASS on Saturday.
What others are saying: Former Russian President and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who currently serves as the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, accused Wagner of a "staged coup d'état," Russian state media RIA Novosti reported on Saturday. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden and allies reaffirmed their “unwavering support for Ukraine” in a call with leaders of France, Germany and the United Kingdom Saturday about the situation in Russia.
Since Prigozhin's announcement to stand down, Putin and Lukashenko had a phone call to discuss "the results of negotiations" with Prigozhin, according to the Belarusian presidential press service. Putin thanked Lukashenko, the press service said.
Ukraine's reaction: In his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed Putin is “very afraid,” saying that the Russian president is "probably hiding somewhere, not showing himself.”
What else is going on: Ukrainian forces launched simultaneous counteroffensives in multiple directions, according to Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar. She said that "there is progress in all directions" without giving any further detail.
Earlier Saturday, Ukraine claimed it had taken back territory in the east that was held by Russia since it annexed Crimea in 2014. Ukrainian forces claim to have taken the area prior to the apparent Wagner insurrection but only announced it Saturday. CNN cannot independently verify battlefield reports.