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Russia-Ukraine: War Crisis Abates in Russia but Questions Remain Over Putin’s Authority – NYTimes

  • Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, halted his march on Moscow and withdrew his forces from a southern Russia military hub. Russia dropped charges against Mr. Prigozhin and said he would go to Belarus.
Wagner soldiers pull out of Rostov (Alexander Emochenko/ Reuters)

Paul Sonne, Anton Troianovski and Anatoly Kurmanaev, New York Times

Enmergiesnet.com 06 25 2023

The outlines of a deal that appeared to defuse a rapidly evolving Russian security crisis began to come into focus late Saturday, as the Kremlin announced that a Russian mercenary leader, who for nearly 24 hours led an armed uprising against the country’s military leadership, would flee to Belarus and his fighters would escape repercussions.

The announcement capped one of the most tumultuous days in President Vladimir V. Putin’s more than 23-year rule in Russia and followed an apparent intervention by the leader of neighboring Belarus, who stepped in to negotiate a solution to the crisis directly with the head of the Wagner private military company, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, who was leading the revolt.

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters that under an agreement brokered by Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the leader of Belarus, Mr. Prigozhin would go to Belarus and the criminal case opened against him for organizing an armed insurrection would be dropped.

The Wagner fighters who didn’t participate in the uprising would be given the option of signing Russian Defense Ministry contracts, Mr. Peskov said, and the rest would avoid prosecution, considering their “heroic deeds on the front.”

“There was a higher goal — to avoid bloodshed, to avoid an internal confrontation, to avoid clashes with unpredictable consequences,” Mr. Peskov said. “It was in the name of these goals that Lukashenko’s mediation efforts were realized, and President Putin made the corresponding decisions.”

In an audio statement earlier in the evening, Mr. Prigozhin announced that his troops marching toward Moscow would turn around. His forces, which had seized the Southern Military District headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, also appeared to be leaving in footage shared on social media.In a brief address on Saturday morning, Mr. Putin had called the mutiny an act of treason by people who were delivering “a stab in the back of our country and our people.”

Mr. Prigozhin, after lashing out on Friday at the Russian military over its handling of the war in Ukraine, took control of Rostov in the early morning and began moving his armed military convoys toward the Russian capital. Mr. Putin, in turn, scrambled security forces in southwestern Russia and Moscow.

The situation shifted quickly late Saturday when Mr. Lukashenko’s office, in a statement, said that Mr. Prigozhin had agreed to the Belarusian leader’s proposal “to stop the movement of armed persons of the Wagner company.” In an audio statement posted to Telegram shortly afterward, Mr. Prigozhin said he was “turning around” to avoid Russian bloodshed and “leaving in the opposite direction to field camps in accordance with the plan.”

Mr. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said the leader of Belarus, who had long been personally acquainted with Mr. Prigozhin, proposed serving as a mediator — and Mr. Putin agreed.

“We are grateful to the president for his efforts,” Mr. Peskov said.

Here is the latest:

  • The mercurial Wagner leader’s long-running criticism of Moscow’s military leadership erupted into open confrontation on Friday when he accused the Russian Army of attacking his forces and pledged to retaliate. Russian authorities said they were charging Mr. Prigozhin with “organizing an armed rebellion” against the Russian president. In an audio message on Saturday, Mr. Prigozhin (pronounced pree-GOH-shin) rejected accusations of treason and said that his forces were “patriots of our motherland.”

  • Kremlin apparatchiks, regional governors, lawmakers and other officials declared their fealty to Mr. Putin, with virtually all predicting that he would prevail. No central figures publicly took Mr. Prigozhin’s side.

  • U.S. officials said they were watching the situation closely but did not want to say anything publicly that could give Mr. Putin reason to blame the West for the turmoil. Senior American national security officials had indications as early as Wednesday that Mr. Prigozhin was preparing to take military action against senior Russian defense officials, according to officials briefed on the intelligence.

  • Asked whether the uprising would result in changes to the Russian military leadership, as Mr. Prigozhin had demanded, Mr. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said those decisions were exclusively the domain of Russia’s commander-in-chief, so “such matters could scarcely be discussed” in such talks. Mr. Peskov also said Russia’s military operations in Ukraine would continue unchanged.

  • In eastern Ukraine, residents saw the rebellion as a distraction for Russia that could help Kyiv’s forces. Russia continued its attacks on Ukraine, firing more than 20 missiles at Kyiv in a predawn assault that left at least three people dead, the eighth attack on the Ukrainian capital this month.

  • The Russian ruble slid to its weakest level against the dollar in more than a year on Friday, before the trading markets closed, and at least one currency exchange service halted ruble transfers because of uncertainty about the price of the currency.

June 24, 2023, 7:30 p.m.

Farnaz Fassihi, New York Times

The brief uprising in Russia was followed closely in Iran.

President Vladimir V. Putin sitting in a cream-colored conference room with President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran on the screen.
President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran, onscreen, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in a video conference last month. Mr. Raisi spoke on the phone with Mr. Putin on Saturday, according to Iranian media. Pool photo by Mikhael Klimentyev

Iran, a key ally of Moscow, followed the crisis in Russia on Saturday with minute-by-minute coverage across its news media outlets. Many Iranians wondered how the armed uprising by the Wagner mercenary group and its abrupt end would affect their lives.

Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, spoke on the phone with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, according to Iranian media.

“The recent events in Russia are an internal matter, and Iran supports the rule of law in Russia,” said the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Nasser Kanaani.

Iran’s news media called the uprising against the Kremlin an armed insurrection. Nour News, which is affiliated with Iran’s National Security Council, called it a Western-backed plot to defeat Russia in the war in Ukraine.

Iran’s state television aired a live report from Moscow with news that Wagner mercenaries, with mediation from Belarus, had halted their march toward the capital. An Iranian reporter with state television said that the situation in the areas around crucial sites, such as the Kremlin and the Foreign and Defense Ministries, appeared to be normal.

Iran and Russia have forged closer military, intelligence and economic ties in the past decade, with Iran shifting its policy away from the West and placing itself in the so-called eastern axis with Russia and China. Iran and Russia also partnered in Syria to fight opposition forces and the Islamic State terrorist group, helping to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power.

The Tehran-based political analyst Sasan Karimi said Russia was a very important ally for Iran.

“It wants Russia to be stable because an unstable, weak Russia will upend all of Iran’s policy calculations,” Mr. Karimi said.

For the Iranian government, which has faced sanctions, pressure from the West and a domestic uprising against its clerical rule, Russia provided a sense of security in the form of a powerful ally. Iran has also been providing Russia with drones to use in the war in Ukraine and some expertise for evading western sanctions.

For many Iranians opposed to their government, the Russian crisis was a reason to rejoice because Russia was seen as an enemy that has helped keep their oppressor in power.

Thousands of Iranians on Friday and Saturday tuned into Clubhouse, the popular town-hall-style app where analysts and journalists gave updates on the events in Russia.

“Putin is caught in a terrible predicament, and his allies will also suffer serious damages from this crisis,” wrote Ahmad Zeidabadi, a political analyst close to the reformist faction in Tehran, on Twitter and on Telegram.Show more

June 24, 2023, 7:13 p.m. ET

David E. Sanger and Julian E. Barnes

U.S. officials were briefed that Prigozhin was preparing to take military action against Russia.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, wearing body armor and addressing the camera while soldiers walk behind him.
Yevgeny Prigozhin in a screen capture from his video address from Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Saturday after it was captured by his mercenary troops.  (Prigozhin Press Service)

American intelligence officials briefed senior military and administration officials on Wednesday that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the mercenary Wagner Group, was preparing to take military action against senior Russian defense officials, according to officials familiar with the matter.

U.S. spy agencies had indications days earlier that Mr. Prigozhin was planning something and worked to refine that material into a finished assessment, officials said.

The information shows that the United States was aware of impending events in Russia, similar to how intelligence agencies had warned in late 2021 that Vladimir V. Putin was planning to invade Ukraine.

But unlike with the initial invasion, when U.S. officials declassified the intelligence and then released it to try to deter Mr. Putin from invading, intelligence agencies kept silent about Mr. Prigozhin’s plans. U.S. officials felt that if they said anything, Mr. Putin could accuse them of orchestrating a coup. And they clearly had little interest in helping Mr. Putin avoid a major, embarrassing fracturing of his support.

In this case, the information that the long-running feud between Mr. Prigozhin, who got his start as “Putin’s chef” in St. Petersburg, and Russian defense officials was about to devolve into conflict was considered both solid and alarming. Mr. Prigozhin is known for his brutality, and had he succeeded in ousting the officials, he would likely have been an unpredictable leader. And the possibility that a major nuclear-armed rival of the United States could descend into internal chaos carried with it a new set of risks.

While it is not clear exactly when the United States first learned of the plot, intelligence officials conducted briefings on Wednesday with administration and defense officials. On Thursday, as additional confirmation of the plot came in, intelligence officials informed a narrow group of congressional leaders, according to officials familiar with the briefings who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. By Friday night, Mr. Prigozhin had dramatically escalated his feud, launching a march on Moscow that the Russian government described as an attempted coup. On Saturday, he called his fighters off and agreed to flee to Belarus.

CNN earlier reported that the United States had briefed congressional leaders about their concerns that Mr. Prigozhin was preparing to challenge Russia’s military leadership.

Sergei K. Shoigu in military uniform with a line of tanks behind him.
U.S. officials say Mr. Prigozhin hates Sergei K. Shoigu, the minister of defense, and the feeling is mutual. Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, via Associated Press

For years, Mr. Prigozhin hated Sergei K. Shoigu, the minister of defense, and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces, and the feeling was mutual, U.S. officials said. But it took the war in Ukraine, officials said earlier this year, for the animosity to spill into the open, frequently expressed by Mr. Prigozhin in ill-tempered posts on Telegram, a social media platform.

In recent months, intelligence officials have tracked the growing animosity between Mr. Prigozhin and leaders of Russia’s defense ministry and spent considerable time analyzing it.

The intelligence agencies’ conclusion was that it was a clear sign of the internal tensions caused by the war in Ukraine, a product of Russia’s struggle to supply its troops adequately.

It was an indication, one official said, of how the war was going badly for both Wagner and the regular military.

Intelligence reports released as part of the Discord leaks also showed that the United States had intercepted communications between senior Russian military leaders debating how to handle Mr. Prigozhin’s constant demands for more ammunition.

In interviews before the current crisis, U.S. officials said it was not just Wagner forces that faced supply shortages, but the entire Russian military. Those problems have plagued the Russian military for months, but American officials said earlier this week that they had become more obvious as the Ukrainian counteroffensive began.

Mr. Putin also may have given Mr. Prigozhin the false belief he could move beyond public criticism to action against his military allies. During the fight for the city of Bakhmut, the U.S. government assessed that Mr. Putin very likely ordered regular Russian units to reinforce Wagner forces.

After the capture of Bakhmut, the Russian defense ministry moved to cut down the power of Wagner. Russia forced all volunteers for its forces to sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense. The move cut Wagner off from recruits and meant that for the mercenaries to return to the battlefield in Ukraine, Mr. Prigozhin would have to subordinate his forces to the Defense Ministry, said Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Placing Wagner forces under the control of Mr. Shoigu was “out of the question” for Mr. Prigozhin, Ms. Stanovaya said.

Many of Mr. Prigozhin’s tensions with the military had played out in public. He used interviews and Telegram posts to berate Mr. Shoigu and General Gerasimov, calling them incompetent and charging that they were misleading Mr. Putin about the progress of the war with Ukraine.

American officials conceded that there was an element of theater to Mr. Prigozhin’s public complaints but that it was nevertheless useful for Mr. Putin, who himself has privately criticized his military leadership for being too passive during the Ukraine war.

Still, American officials concluded that Mr. Prigozhin’s public statements were not controlled by Mr. Putin. His fight with the ministry of defense, officials said earlier this year, was real, not political theater, fueled by the huge casualties Russia had suffered in Bakhmut.

Mr. Prigozhin’s critique went beyond an argument over needed supplies. He charged that the military leadership was corrupt and incompetent. For their part, some military leaders were jealous of his influence with Mr. Putin, American officials said earlier this year.

But it was only in recent days that intelligence officials got the initial warnings that Mr. Prigozhin might take action.

Officials said that intelligence agencies had not known what the results of Mr. Prigozhin’s actions might be, but they were immediately worried about how it might affect the control of Russia’s nuclear weapons. President Biden, speaking in October, talked of the dangers that Mr. Putin would pose if he felt cornered and said the United States was looking for “off ramps” for Mr. Putin.

Since Mr. Prigozhin took action on Friday, American officials have been locked down, saying little publicly about his intentions or what they knew about events on the ground. Officials have been wary, both because events were moving fast and because they did not want to give Mr. Putin any excuse to blame the West for Mr. Prigozhin’s actions. But several officials said they fully expected that Mr. Putin would eventually say the uprising was the result of a foreign plot.

Mr. Prigozhin is under indictment in the United States for his role in trying to influence the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald J. Trump.Show more

June 24, 2023, 5:57 p.m. ET

Anatoly Kurmanaev, NYTimes

Wagner fighters stream out of Rostov, the southern Russian military hub they seized overnight

Wagner armored vehicles began to leave the military hub of Rostov-on-Don, according to videos from Russian state media that were verified by The New York Times. ( Reuters)

They left as suddenly as they arrived. The columns of Wagner fighters streamed out of the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on Saturday night as some residents chanted the group’s name.

Among those departing was the mercenary group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin. He left the city’s military headquarters, according to a photo posted by an affiliated military blogger. The Kremlin said he would go to neighboring Belarus.

In videos posted by local and state media, some residents thanked the Wagner fighters and others hugged them as they prepared to leave for what Mr. Prigozhin described as unnamed training camps. Some fired shots in the air as they drove out.

The small crowds that gathered to see Wagner off showed that the group has maintained at least some popular support in Rostov, a city where their fighters have been a regular presence since Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and backed Russian-speaking separatists in the Donbas region in Ukraine’s east.

The government made a public offer of amnesty to the Wagner rebels.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Wagner’s seemingly bloodless takeover of Rostov, one of Russia’s largest military hubs, appeared to show the group’s transformation from a minor paramilitary force into a major political power capable of holding a metropolis of more than a million people.

The group’s brief tenure in the city produced surreal footage of a short-lived mutiny that dumbfounded the most experienced Kremlinoligsts. A Wagner tank lodged itself into Rostov’s circus grounds, and residents were filmed calmly going about their business while masked armed men barricaded the city’s streets. And a rival paramilitary force of Chechen fighters that was sent to the city to dislodge Wagner never arrived.

Through the occupation, the local security forces appeared to offer no organized resistance to Wagner, and there have been no confirmed deaths in a city filled with military personnel. Local media reported that Wagner units had surrounded the local military and security agency offices, barricading officers inside but allowing them to order takeout.

Mr. Prigozhin said that his force’s occupation of Rostov’s military headquarters did not disrupt the officers’ daily wartime task: coordinating the defenses of occupied Ukrainian territories amid Kyiv’s ongoing counteroffensive. That claim was impossible to verify, but on Saturday the dramatic events in Russia were not matched by significant developments on Ukraine’s battlefields.Show mor

June 24, 2023, 5:51 p.m.

Valerie Hopkins Valeri Hopkins, NYTimes

The Wagner uprising unraveled less than 24 hours after it began

A close-up of President Alexandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, sitting in a gold-backed chair.
President Alexandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus in Moscow in May. (Sputnik/via Reuters)

In less than 24 hours, prosecutors charged Yevgeny V. Prigozhin with inciting an armed uprising for launching a march on Moscow, then forgave the Russian mercenary leader and his soldiers after they suddenly turned around and began withdrawing from southern Russia as part of a deal negotiated with Belarus.

As part of the roller coaster developments, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, told journalists on Saturday night that the criminal case against Mr. Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, would be dropped. Under the terms of the deal, Mr. Prigozhin will go to Belarus, Mr. Peskov said, while the fighters who rebelled with him would not be prosecuted, given their “service at the front.” Wagner fighters who did not participate in the mutiny would have the opportunity to sign contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defense and continue their service, he said, saying their “heroic deeds at the front” would “always be respected.”

“There was a higher goal: to avoid bloodshed, to avoid internal confrontation, to avoid clashes with unpredictable results,” Mr. Peskov said in a call with journalists after Mr. Prigozhin had confirmed the announcement of a deal by the Belarusian president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, a staunch Putin ally.

“It was in the name of these goals that Lukashenko’s mediation efforts were implemented,” Mr. Peskov said. “President Putin made a corresponding decision.”

Mr. Peskov said that Mr. Lukashenko “has been acquainted with Mr. Prigozhin for a long time, at least 20 years,” and that Mr. Lukashenko had personally offered to broker a deal.

Mr. Peskov said the armed rebellion would not impact Moscow’s capacity to wage war in Ukraine, and that its military operations would continue unchanged. He refused to address speculation that there could be shake-ups in the Defense Ministry.

On Friday night, Mr. Prigozhin announced a “march for justice” to Moscow after alleging that his private military contractors had been attacked from behind by Russian soldiers. The attack has not been verified, and prosecutors in Moscow accused him of mounting an armed coup.

As the news of the deal was announced, analysts expressed surprise and shock that tensions had seemingly eased, despite Mr. Prigozhin’s seizure of a strategically important command center for Russia’s southern military district in Rostov-on-Don, downed three Russian military aircraft and killed 12 of the personnel manning them. Soldiers had been deployed across southern Russia to strengthen regional defenses and roads south of Moscow.

“It turns out that Prigozhin bet everything he had on his ‘march of justice,’ spent it at the cost of the lives of a dozen Russian pilots and valuable aircraft, and in the end was left with nothing — exactly what we were afraid of,” wrote a military blogger known as Military Informer.

Still others were asking about the whereabouts of Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu, the primary target of Mr. Prigozhin’s ire in months of tirades against Russia’s political and military elites.

“OK, everything is clear with Putin and Prigozhin,” wrote Russian businessman and opposition leader Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky on his Telegram channel. “And where is our ‘inflexible’ Shoigu?”Show more

June 24, 2023, 5:33 p.m. ET

Peter Baker, NYTimes

One of the most nerve-wracking aspects of a crisis like the one in Russia is the disposition of nuclear weapons. But a senior U.S. administration official said the U.S. government had not detected any change in Russia’s arsenal in the last 48 hours and had not changed its own nuclear posture.

June 24, 2023, 5:16 p.m. ET

Anatoly Kurmanaev and Kyle Crichton

An armed challenge to the Kremlin tests a secretive private army’s true strengths.

Fighters in camouflage gear sit on a sidewalk as other fighters stand on patrol as civilians walk by.
Wagner fighters in the center of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Saturday. Agence France-Presse

Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the mercenary leader who led an armed rebellion in Russia on Saturday, was never afraid of a dirty task, many say.

Emerging from jail as the Soviet Union was collapsing, he began his post-criminal career selling hot dogs on street corners in St. Petersburg, Russia. There, he befriended Vladimir V. Putin, then a minor official in the city government, developed a catering business and earned billions on government contracts when his friend Vladimir became prime minister and then president of Russia.

Mr. Prigozhin quickly earned the trust of his benefactor, who assigned him a number of important tasks that were best handled at arm’s length from the government. The first and most notorious of those was overseeing the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm founded in 2013 to flood the United States and Europe with disinformation that discredited liberal elites and promoted hard-right ideologies.

From there, he raised mercenaries to fight in Syria and Libya, and, most fatefully, founded the private military group Wagner, which emerged during Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. It quickly earned a reputation for ruthless violence in pursuit of lucrative diamond and gold concessions, while building political influence for the Kremlin in countries like the Central African Republic, Libya, Mali and Sudan.

Throughout those years, Mr. Prigozhin kept an extremely low profile, never even admitting to the existence of Wagner, let alone his having a role in it.

That began to change during the war in Ukraine, as the Russian military suffered setback after setback and Mr. Prigozhin became disgusted with the greed, corruption and ineptitude he claimed to see in the upper echelons of the military.

“These are Wagner guys who died today; the blood is still fresh,” Mr. Prigozhin said, addressing Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, and the commander of the armed forces, Valery V. Gerasimov. “They came here as volunteers and they die so you can get fat in your mahogany offices.”

As his critiques of Russia’s top military leaders grew more frequent and intemperate, he began to emerge as a public figure, insisting that his forces could do the job far better than the Russian regulars.

He recruited thousands of convicts from Russian prisons and threw them into the bloody fight over the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, often with the ruthlessness and indifference to human life that he attributed to Russian commanders. Along the way he feuded with General Shoigu and General Gerasimov, accusing them of depriving his forces of ammunition to try to destroy Wagner, an action he said “can be equated to treason.”

For Mr. Prigozhin, a breaking point was reached on Friday night, when, he says, Russian forces attacked his men as they slept in their camps (something that Russia denies and that has not been independently confirmed). On Saturday, he led a force he claimed to number 25,000 out of Ukraine and into Russia, where he seized the city of Rostov-on-Don, a military hub, with virtually no resistance.

An armored vehicle with red Zs painted on it and flying a purple flag drives down a residential street.
Wagner forces took control of Rostov-on-Don, a strategically important military hub in southern Russia, on Saturday without encountering any resistance.(Agence France-Presse)

Always a complex figure, he was prone to vituperative outbursts and threats that were quickly forgotten or contradicted, as happened on Saturday. After first claiming he would march his forces all the way to Moscow, he reversed course later in the day. He had agreed to a proposal by the Belarusian leader, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, “to stop the movement of armed persons of the Wagner company” and move to Belarus. In return, the Russian government would drop the charges of treason against him and grant amnesty to his soldiers.

It remains unclear if he can return to Russia, but he has capitalized on his feud with the generals to fashion himself as a populist political figure, fighting for humble servicemen and others suffering at the hands of “unqualified scoundrels and intrigants.”

He has contrasted that with what he sees as the decadence of Russian elites and the injustice in society.

“The children of the elite smear themselves with creams, showing it on the internet; ordinary people’s children come in zinc, torn to pieces,” he said, referring to the coffins of dead soldiers, and adding that those killed in action had “tens of thousands” of relatives. “Society always demands justice,” he said, “and if there is no justice, then revolutionary sentiments arise.”

Where Mr. Prigozhin goes from here is hard to pin down, as is the fate of Wagner.

If he remains in control of the company, and that is by no means assured, he will still command considerable military assets, but they will be devalued if they cannot rely on the support of the Russian military.

Apart from his standing force, Mr. Prigozhin claimed this month that 32,000 former convicts who had served with Wagner in Ukraine had returned to their homes in Russia. Many of these veterans have expressed strong loyalty to Mr. Prigozhin and have considered returning to its ranks, according to interviews with survivors and their relatives, providing an additional pool of potential recruits to the rebel cause.

Yet most experts believe Wagner’s real strength is far below what Mr. Prigozhin claims, and that he is hoping more Russian soldiers and security agents disgusted by the corruption and mistreatment they see will respond to his populist critique of the leadership and join his ranks.

The U.S. government estimated in December that Wagner had 10,000 professional soldiers. That number most likely fell in recent months as Wagner was forced to throw its most experienced units into battle to finalize the capture of Bakhmut, according to Ukrainian and Western intelligence officials.

Mr. Prigozhin himself said this year that after the capture of Bakhmut, his force would “downsize” as it prepared for new missions.

An armored vehicle is parked in between two residential buildings, and a police car is in the foreground.
With Mr. Prigozhin ostensibly on the way to Belarus, the fate of Wagner and its fighters is hard to pin down.(Agence France-Presse )

Notably, Mr. Prigozhin had managed to run a force numbering tens of thousands of fighters largely on cash. Veterans and their relatives had received salaries, as well as death and injury compensations, through an elaborate network of nameless intermediaries spread across the nation.

The mutiny is likely to have erased that logistical support. And most experts believe that no personal wealth can maintain a large military force capable of challenging a regular army for long, especially without access to the state-controlled financial system.

Earlier on Saturday, videos circulating on social media showed purported Wagner convoys moving through Russia toward Moscow with mounted tanks, air defenses and self-propelled rocket launchers. Most of the rebels’ convoys, however, appeared to be made up of unprotected trucks carrying soldiers.

Mark Galeotti, a Russia military expert, said the limited amount of heavy weaponry would make it difficult for Wagner to operate independently of the Russian military.

“Without artillery you can’t really fight straight-up warfare,” he said.

Before the crisis on Saturday, many analysts had said that Mr. Prigozhin was looking to transition to the political sphere in Russia, though he had been careful not to pose any threat to Mr. Putin.

“He sees his future at risk, and he is scrambling to present a place for himself after Bakhmut within the larger war,” said Jack Margolin, a Washington-based expert on Russia’s private military companies.

Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting

June 24, 2023, 5:08 p.m. ET

Paul Sonne, NYTimes

President Vladimir V. Putin hasn’t been seen publicly since his video address on Saturday morning, in which he accused the mutinying Wagner fighters of committing treason and stabbing Russia in the back.

June 24, 2023, 4:55 p.m. ET

Gaya Gupta, NYTimes

These are the key events that led up to the standoff between Prigozhin and the Russian military.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner leader, in a camouflage uniform, sitting with two other officials.
A frame of a video posted on Saturday on Telegram shows Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner leader, speaking with two Russian military officials in a Russian military headquarters in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don.(Agence France-Presse)

For years, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the Wagner mercenary leader who conducted a brief rebellion against the Russian military, had been a loyal supporter of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

In recent months, he continued to steer clear of directly criticizing Mr. Putin, even as he increasingly used social media to lambaste Russia’s military, accusing its leaders of treason and blaming them for failing to provide his forces with enough resources.

But over the last two days, he assailed the rationale for Mr. Putin’s so-called special military operation in Ukraine, sent his forces to seize the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, a military hub, and began to move Wagner convoys toward Moscow. Mr. Putin mobilized Russian troops to quell what he called an armed rebellion, and the Belarusian president, a Putin ally, negotiated a halt to the Wagner advance.

Here’s a look at Mr. Prigozhin’s history and some of the claims he has made:

December 2016

The United States imposed sanctions against 15 Russian entities, including Mr. Prigozhin, for their dealings in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, and in Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists seized territory the same year. The Treasury Department targeted businesspeople who were associates of Mr. Putin or were involved in activities that aided in Russia’s destabilization of Ukraine.

February 2018

Mr. Prigozhin was one of 13 Russians indicted by a federal grand jury in the United States for interfering in the 2016 presidential election through the Internet Research Agency, a troll factory that spread falsehoods and waged information warfare in support of the campaign of Donald J. Trump.

September 2022

Mr. Prigozhin publicly acknowledged for the first time that he was the founder of the Wagner mercenary organization, whose fighters were deployed alongside Russian troops in Ukraine. Previously, Wagner fighters had operated in support of the Kremlin’s military campaigns in Africa and the Middle East, occasionally battling against U.S. forces.

October 2022

Mr. Prigozhin was one of two powerful supporters of Mr. Putin to publicly turn on Russia’s military leadership after it ordered a retreat from Lyman, a key city in eastern Ukraine, emphasizing that the retreat was a major embarrassment for the Kremlin.

November 2022

Just a day before the U.S. midterms, Mr. Prigozhin sardonically boasted that Russia was interfering in the election.

“Gentlemen, we have interfered, we do interfere and we will interfere,” Mr. Prigozhin said in a statement posted by his catering company. “We will do it carefully, precisely, surgically as we are capable of doing it. During our targeted operations, we will remove both kidneys and liver at once.”

At the time, Wagner troops were advancing on the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which had been under Russian attack for months.

February 2023

Mr. Prigozhin accused two Russian military leaders of treason in a series of hostile audio messages. He claimed that the Russian defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, and its most senior general, Valery V. Gerasimov, were withholding ammunition and supplies from his fighters to try to destroy Wagner.

Earlier in the month, Mr. Prigozhin had said that Wagner would no longer recruit fighters from Russian prisons, a practice that had raised criticism from human rights groups but helped fuel Moscow’s advances in eastern Ukraine.

May 2023

Mr. Prigozhin issued a series of inflammatory statements. He once again accused Russia’s military bureaucracy of starving Wagner forces of necessary ammunition and threatened to withdraw them from Bakhmut. Days later, he appeared to backtrack on that threat after saying he had been promised more arms.

In late May, Wagner forces said they had captured Bakhmut, a claim it had made previously as well. Ukrainian officials quickly denied the claim, but days later acknowledged the loss of the city. Russian state media kept Mr. Prigozhin’s name out of its coverage of those events.

Earlier in the month, Mr. Prigozhin dismissed a report from The Washington Post saying that leaked intelligence showed he had offered to share Russian Army positions with Ukraine.

June 2023

Tensions between Mr. Prigozhin and Russia’s military rose higher. Mr. Prigozhin said Wagner would not comply with an order that would require it to sign a formal contract with Russia’s defense ministry by July.

The feud rapidly escalated on Friday of last week, when Mr. Prigozhin released a 30-minute video in which he described his country’s invasion of Ukraine as a “racket” perpetrated by a corrupt elite chasing money and glory without concern for Russian lives. He also challenged the Kremlin’s claim that Kyiv had been on the verge of attacking Russian-backed separatist territory in Ukraine’s east when Russia invaded.

“The war wasn’t needed to return Russian citizens to our bosom, nor to demilitarize or denazify Ukraine,” Mr. Prigozhin said, referring to Mr. Putin’s initial justifications for the war. “The war was needed so that a bunch of animals could simply exult in glory.”

Mr. Prigozhin also accused Mr. Shoigu, the Russian minister of defense, of orchestrating a deadly attack with missiles and helicopters on camps to the rear of the Russian lines in Ukraine, where his soldiers were bivouacked.

The Russian defense ministry denied the allegations, saying in a statement that the messages Mr. Prigozhin had posted about supposed strikes on Wagner camps “do not correspond to reality.” His account of the attacks remains unconfirmed.

Mr. Putin mobilized Russian troops on Saturday to defend Moscow from what he called an armed rebellion by Mr. Prigozhin, whose forces had claimed control of Rostov-on-Don and were seen moving north along a highway toward the Russian capital. Then, in a surprise turn of events, the Belarusian president, Alexsandr G. Lukashenko, said he had secured Mr. Prigozhin’s agreement to halt his forces’ advance. Mr. Prigozhin confirmed that he was turning his forces around.

The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, said that Mr. Prigozhin would flee to Belarus, and that Russia’s military operations in Ukraine would continue unchanged.Show more

June 24, 2023, 4:06 p.m. ET

Anatoly Kurmanaev. NYTimes

Wagner armored vehicles began leaving the military hub of Rostov-on-Don, in southwestern Russia, on Saturday night, as a group of local supporters chanted the mercenary group’s name, according to videos posted on social media. The departed equipment included a tank that had lodged itself inside the grounds of the city circus, creating an oddly symbolic moment. The fighters’ departure from Rostov, whose occupation sent an image of strength, added credibility to the deal apparently reached in talks with the Belarusian leader.

editCredit…РИА Новости via Telegra

June 24, 2023, 2:55 p.m. ET

Paul Sonne, NYTImes

Prigozhin says he is halting his fighters’ advance on Moscow.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, wearing military gear, points at the camera while talking.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, in an image taken from a video released by his press service on Saturday. Mr. Prigozhin said he was halting his forces’ advance on Moscow. (Prigozhin Press Service)

The Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny V. Prigozhin said late Saturday that he was turning around his fighters heading to Moscow to avoid Russian bloodshed, as the security crisis engulfing Russia showed signs of a possible resolution.

In an audio statement posted to Telegram, Mr. Prigozhin said that his forces were within 200 kilometers, or about 125 miles, of Moscow, and had reached that point without any bloodshed among his fighters.

“Now the moment has come when blood could be shed,” he said. “So, understanding all responsibility for the fact that Russian blood will be spilled, on one side, we are turning around our column and are leaving in the opposite direction to field camps in accordance with the plan.”

The shift appears to be prompted by negotiations with the Belarusian leader, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, who has long been in the orbit of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

In a statement released by Mr. Lukashenko’s office and republished by the state news agency, the leader of Belarus said he had held discussions with Mr. Prigozhin throughout the day in agreement with the Russian president. The statement said Mr. Prigozhin agreed to the Belarusian leader’s proposal to stop the movement of armed persons of the Wagner company.Show moreGaya Gupta

June 24, 2023, 2:38 p.m. ET

Gaya Gupta

Shortly after Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny V. Prigozhin announced his forces would halt a march on Moscow, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in a message on Twitter that “Today, the world saw that the bosses of Russia do not control anything.

June 24, 2023, 2:34 p.m. ET

Eric Schmitt, NYTimes

Some Western analysts expressed a cautious wait-and-see attitude toward the sudden reversal by the head of the Wagner private military group. “I don’t believe it until I see it,” said Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation.

June 24, 2023, 2:11 p.m. ET

Andrea Kannapell,. NYTimes

Videos show banners for the Wagner mercenary group being taken down in the region of St. Petersburg. Other videos show the same is happening in Moscow.

June 24, 2023, 1:53 p.m. ET

Biden is now en route to Camp David. Accompanying him is Jake Sullivan, his national security adviser, who doesn’t usually draw weekend duty at Camp David.

June 24, 2023, 1:34 p.m. ET

Paul Sonne, NYTimes

In an audio statement, mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said he and his Wagner forces were “turning around our columns and returning to field camps according to plan.”

Agence France-Presse

June 24, 2023, 1:33 p.m. ET

Paul Sonne

President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus was in talks on Saturday with the head of the Wagner private military group, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, according to a statement released by the Belarusian state news agency. The statement noted that Lukashenko was acting with the approval of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia

June 24, 2023, 1:34 p.m. ET

Paul Sonne

The leader of Belarus said the head of the Wagner private military group, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, had agreed to stop the movement of his forces inside the Russian Federation and take other steps to de-escalate the crisis.

June 24, 2023, 1:10 p.m. ET

The New York Times

Tracking the military convoys approaching Moscow.

Military convoys believed to belong to Yevgeny V. Prigozhin’s Wagner forces have been seen at various points along Russia’s major M-4 highway, which leads to Moscow. In at least two areas along the route, clashes have broken out. The route shown here is approximate.

In an audio statement later on Saturday, Mr. Prigozhin said he and his Wagner forces were “turning around our columns and returning to field camps according to plan.”

By Josh Holder, Haley Willis, Riley Mellen, Christiaan Triebert, Muyi Xiao, Dmitriy Khavin, Robin Stein, Sarah Kerr and Marco Hernandez

June 24, 2023, 1:06 p.m. ET

To enter Moscow, Wagner fighters will have to face a ‘coup-proof’ defense system, analysts say.

Vehicles, including an armored personnel carrier, cluster on a highway as Russian Army service members stand guard.
Russian Army service members with an armored personnel carrier guarding a highway near Moscow on Saturday. (Associated Press)

Dating back to Soviet times, the defense of Moscow was designed partly with the idea of preventing an armed insurrection from toppling the government.

Overlapping security services play a role, and one task of every branch has been to keep an eye on all the others.

“This has been built to be as coup-proof a system as possible,” Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russia’s security services, said recently on his podcast, “In Moscow’s Shadows.” Lots of security officials are paid to be “professionally paranoid,” tasked with looking for signs of any threat from within the security establishment, he noted.

First among equals is the Federal Protection Service, or F.S.O., which is roughly equivalent to the U.S. Secret Service. It serves as a kind of Praetorian guard, bearing the main responsibility for protecting the president.

After that, the main Federal Security Service, the F.S.B., has a large military counterintelligence department. Although it tries to ferret out foreign spies in the armed forces, its main task is watching the military, Mr. Galeotti said.

In terms of military units, there are two central ones assigned the task of guarding Moscow. They are the 4th Guard “Kantemirovskaya” Tank Division, nicknamed after one of their most famous battles, and the 2nd Guards Motor Division. Although both divisions have had units rotate through Ukraine, there is at least one regiment each, or 3,000 men apiece, left in Moscow at all times, Mr. Galeotti said.

Beyond that, there are various units of the Spetsnaz special forces; the National Guard and specialized riot police. And the Interior Ministry has a large police force. While not exactly military units, their members are all armed and could be called upon to shoot at the Wagner mercenaries.

On the other side, the Wagner group is estimated to have some 25,000 men, although accounts vary as to how many are deployed along the Russia-Ukraine front and how many are in far-flung assignments in the Middle East and Africa.

Whatever the number, Mr. Galeotti noted, it is likely insufficient to take on all the government forces mustered in Moscow, especially because Wagner fighters are limited in terms of their own air power, transportation and other logistics issues.

The scattered videos of Russian troops advancing from the southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don, where the rebellion started, to Moscow show mostly men in trucks or on armored personnel carriers, and very little in the way of artillery or tanks, Mr. Galeotti noted. So it is not clear how they expect to go on the offensive, he said.

“We need to appreciate how much the odds are stacked against them,” he said.Show more

June 24, 2023, 12:50 p.m. ET

Eric Schmitt

Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, has cancelled a trip to Israel and Jordan next week because of the Russia crisis, according to his spokesman, Col. Dave Butler

June 24, 2023, 12:43 p.m. ETJune 24, 2023June 24, 2023

Cassandra Vinograd

Ukraine’s most senior military commander said he had spoken by phone with Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and discussed the situation on the front line “in detail.” The commander, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, said in a statement that the conversation touched on Ukraine’s counteroffensive, which he told Milley was “proceeding according to plan.”

June 24, 2023, 12:42 p.m. ET

Gülsin Harman, reporting from Istanbul

Turkey’s foreign minister, Hakan Fidan, spoke about with the U.S. secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, about the “latest developments in Russia,” the Turkish state broadcaster TRT reported.

June 24, 2023, 12:38 p.m. ET

Aurelien Breeden

France “strongly” advised against all travel to Russia on Saturday, citing the “highly volatile military and security situation,” the Foreign Ministry said on its website.

June 24, 2023, 12:36 p.m. ET

Traci Carl

Russian troops have set up roadblocks around Moscow’s perimeter as fighters from the Wagner mercenary group were seen moving north along a highway toward Moscow.

June 24, 2023, 12:30 p.m.

Valerie Hopkins

Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, a Russian businessman who has sought to unite groups opposing Putin, called on Russians opposed to the regime to arm themselves.

“Now we see that only armed people can resist the dictatorship,” Khodorkovsky wrote on his Telegram channel. “Now there is a small window of opportunity when there is chaos on the streets and the security forces are not in control of the situation.”

June 24, 2023, 12:30 p.m. ET

Valerie Hopkins

He said the dramatic standoff would likely result in further repression.

“If you see the strength in yourself in the future to become those armed people who will oppose Putin or Prigozhin, then it’s time to arm yourself,” he said. “Prigozhin is not our friend and not even our ally. He is a bandit and a war criminal. But his rebellion is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and there won’t be another like it for a long time.

June 24, 2023, 12:25 p.m.

Peter Baker

President Biden delayed his departure for Camp David on Saturday to consult with advisers and spoke with European leaders about the crisis. Those on the call included President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain. “The leaders discussed the situation in Russia,” the White House said in a statement. “They also affirmed their unwavering support for Ukraine.”

June 24, 2023, 12:06 p.m. ETJune 24, 2023June 24, 2023

Joe Rennison

The ruble slides to its lowest point in more than a year

An electronic display showing currency exchange rates for the U.S. dollar and euro against the Russian ruble in red.
A currency exchange market in Moscow earlier this month. (Maxim Shipenkov/EPA)

The Russian ruble slid to its weakest level against the dollar in more than a year on Friday, before the trading markets closed and, because of the uncertainty about the political situation in Russia, the current price of the currency was hard to determine.

The ruble fell to a value of 84 per U.S. dollar on Friday, with the Russian business newspaper RBK later reporting that the domestic Tinkoff Bank was offering customers an exchange rate of 94.9 rubles per U.S. dollar.

The value of the ruble hit a low point against the U.S. dollar in March 2022, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, trading at about 150 rubles to the dollar, according to data from FactSet.

The markets are closed until Sunday evening. So it was unclear how the public confrontation between the mercenary leader Yevgeny V. Prigozhin and President Vladimir V. Putin — and its possible resolution late Saturday — would affect the ruble.

Even before the current standoff, the value of the Russian currency had sharply declined this year, as the mounting cost of the war in Ukraine, alongside declining revenues from energy exports, pressured the country’s economy. In response, the Kremlin has sought to prop up the ruble through the sale of other currencies from its foreign currency reserves.

Russian stock markets also tumbled on Friday evening after the official end of trading. Futures markets, which allow investors to bet on the stock market outside of normal trading hours, declined 2 percent to 3 percent for the two main Russian stock indexes.

In interviews, some investors in the United States said they were watching the events in Russia, fearful that instability in the country could spill over to global markets, especially after a dip in U.S. stock markets last week.

June 24, 2023, 11:59 a.m.

Cassandra Vinograd Reporting from Kyiv

It’s too soon to say what the developments in Russia will mean for Ukraine’s counteroffensive, said Michael Kofman, the director of Russian studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Va. “It doesn’t necessarily change the situation at the front,” he said in a phone interview, adding that it was unlikely that the Wagner fighters involved had been moved from strategically important locations near the front line in Ukraine.

June 24, 2023, 11:59 a.m.

While he said the speed of the developments highlighted how heavily focused Russia’s military had been on the war in Ukraine, he cautioned that “it’s only been a day — less than a day,” adding that it was “clear that Prigozhin right now has the advantage but the big question is what’s going to happen when and if his columns reach Moscow.”

June 24, 2023, 11:59 a.m.

Valerie Hopkins

Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned Western countries against trying to take advantage of political instability in the country “to achieve their Russophobic goals.”

“We are convinced that in the near future the situation will find its solution, worthy of the age-old wisdom of the Russian people and the Russian state,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Russian society strongly rejects the attempted armed rebellion that took place in our country, and strongly supports the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin.”

June 24, 2023, 11:49 a.m.

Valerie Hopkins

Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said nonessential workers were being asked to stay at home on Monday. “The situation is difficult,” Sobyanin wrote on Telegram. “I ask you to refrain from traveling around the city as much as possible,” he said, announcing that some roads may be blocked.

Andrew Higgins

Belarus, Russia’s neighbor and close ally, urged Russians to hear “the voice of reason,” warning that “the future of the Slavic world, the fate of millions of our people is being decided” by the unfolding turmoil. A statement issued by the country’s Security Council avoided apportioning blame but said that “what is happening is not worth the consequences, the losses that emotional decisions and illegal actions can lead to.”

June 24, 2023, 11:25 a.m.

James Gregg

Images from outside the headquarters of the Russian Southern Military District in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, showed Wagner private military group members standing guard and members of the public calmly observing.

June 24, 2023, 11:24 a.m.

Ivan Nechepurenko

While trying to stop Wagner fighters as they approach Moscow in an armored convoy, Russian officials seem to want to leave some room to maneuver. In view of their military achievements, Wagner mercenaries can still lay down their arms and avoid punishment, Pavel Krasheninnikov, a Russian lawmaker, told Tass, a Russian state news agency.

June 24, 2023, 11:23 a.m.

We will not let this happen again’: Putin evokes Russia’s civil war of a century ago.

A black and white photograph shows many men in military uniform being carried by a truck.
A truck carrying Russian revolutionaries in 1917, in the city then known as Petrograd, later as Leningrad and now as St. Petersburg.Com (Hulton Archive/)

When he sent his military into Ukraine 16 months ago, President Vladimir V. Putin trumpeted the so-called special military operation as a replay of Russia’s proudest hour — its victory against Nazi Germany in World War II.

On Saturday, however, Mr. Putin was struggling to stop history from repeating itself — not the glories of 1945 but the fratricidal horror of Russia’s civil war from 1917 to 1923.

“We will not let this happen again,” Mr. Putin told his country in a somber television address, recalling modern Russia’s darkest period as he tried to rally support against an armed rebellion by the Kremlin-nurtured mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Instead of garlanding the current crisis with references to World War II — which Russia calls the Great Patriotic War, a favorite Putin topic — the Russian leader spoke instead of 1917. “Intrigues, quarrels, politicking behind the back of the army and the people turned into the greatest upheaval, the destruction of the army and the collapse of the state, the loss of vast territories,” he said. “In the end was the tragedy of the civil war.”

In September 1917, a charismatic right-wing officer named Lavr Kornilov attempted a coup against an unpopular moderate, socialist-led provisional government by marching his forces on St. Petersburg, which was then the Russian capital and known as Petrograd. Like Mr. Prigozhin today, Kornilov styled himself as the nation’s savior and hoped that his relatively modest forces would grow as they neared the capital.

In the end, however, his forces disintegrated before reaching the city. Kornilov’s coup attempt is seen today as merely hastening the takeover by Lenin’s ruthless Bolsheviks, by weakening their moderate opponents.

The outcome of the struggle with Mr. Prigozhin is yet to be decided. But by drawing a parallel with the turmoil of 1917, Mr. Putin has already acknowledged the unraveling of what was supposed to be his greatest achievement — rescuing Russia from the chaos that followed the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Throughout the 1990s, when Russia’s president was Boris N. Yeltsin, he and his political enemies regularly accused each other of tipping the country toward civil war. That came perilously close to happening in October 1993, when Mr. Yeltsin sent tanks into the center of Moscow to shell the Parliament building that had been seized by armed rebels.

Mr. Putin vowed to put an end to all that disarray after he took over from Mr. Yeltsin at the end of 1999. Rolling back the often unruly freedoms of the 1990s, he presented his own increasingly autocratic rule as a balm to heal civil discord and keep Russians from again fighting each other.

White Russians, the fiercely anti-communist aristocrats and generals who battled the Bolshevik Reds for more than five years starting in 1917 and then mostly fled into exile, were rehabilitated in official histories as patriots. The bones of some of them were returned to Russia for reburial as a sign of national healing, and the revival of Russia as an imperial power.

Among those reinterred at the Donskoy Monastery in Moscow was Gen. Anton Denikin, a White Russian leader who was reviled as a traitor during the Soviet era but was embraced by Mr. Putin as a “true Russian patriot.” He had proved himself, Mr. Putin said, by refusing to seek help against the Bolsheviks from Ukrainians who had tried to take advantage of Russia’s civil war to form an independent state separate from Russia. In the end, Ukraine became independent in 1991, as the Soviet Union dissolved.

History has now come full circle. As Mr. Prigozhin sent thousands of armed followers toward Moscow on what he called a “march for justice,” Mr. Putin condemned the action as “treason” that had to be crushed.

“Putin always wanted to repeat the Great Patriotic War,” said Volodymyr Viatrovych, a Ukrainian historian and lawmaker, “but he instead repeated the civil war.”

Anatoly Kurmanaev contributed reporting.

June 24, 2023, 11:15 a.m.

Gülsin Harmanreporting from Istanbul

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office confirmed that he had a phone call with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, in which he called for restraint and “common sense.” Erdogan, who has already positioned himself as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, said that Turkey was “ready to do its part to resolve the events in easiness and calmness as soon as possible,” his office said in a statement.

June 24, 2023, 11:05 a.m.

Cassandra Vinograd Reporting from Kyiv

Ukrainian forces recaptured territory in the country’s east that had been held by Russia since 2014, according to Kyiv’s military. Valeriy Shershen, a military spokesman in the Donetsk region, said “several positions” near Krasnohorivka in the Donetsk region had been reclaimed, Ukrinform, a state-funded news agency, reported.

June 24, 2023, 10:45 a.m.

Neil MacFarquhar and Ivan Nechepurenko

In Moscow, Russians try to project calm.
A police officer stands next to a police car on a blocked-off, otherwise empty street opening onto the towers and onion domes of Red Square.
A police officer guards the closed Red Square in Moscow, Russia, on Saturday.Credit…Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

When she asked about continuing with the celebration amid a national crisis, one guest responded, “We are not going to cancel it for no reason,” said Ms. Khrushcheva, an expert on international relations and a descendant of the former Soviet ruler Nikita Khrushchev.

Life in Moscow continued with an air of studied calm even as Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the pugnacious head of the Wagner mercenary group, seized control of a key military headquarters in the southwestern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and began dispatching convoys of troops and armored vehicles toward the capital. President Vladimir V. Putin continued to work in the Kremlin, his spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters.

Even before the uprising, officials had made every effort to project an air of normalcy in Moscow while Russia waged a brutal war across the border in Ukraine. Much of that effort continued on Saturday. Movie theaters and museums were open in the capital, and there was no sign of lines at the supermarkets to stock up on goods.

Still, there were some indications of the crisis. Red Square, just outside the formidable medieval walls of the Kremlin, was closed to the public. A large graduation ceremony scheduled for the theater inside the Kremlin was canceled, as were all large public gatherings in Moscow and other major cities.

In Moscow, and in two other regions between the capital and Rostov-on-Don, the authorities announced a “counterterrorist operation regime,” expanding the powers of the local law enforcement.

Along that corridor, highways were blocked and public transportation also faced disruptions in some places. The price of airline tickets from Moscow to nearby capitals that Russians can enter without a visa skyrocketed.

In Rostov, where there was some anticipation that Russian government forces might besiege the city to bottle up Mr. Prigozhin’s forces, some residents lined up to purchase gasoline and food, according to 161.ru, a local online news outlet. Some supermarkets took measures like limiting the amount of essential goods — including salt, sugar and flour — that customers could purchase.

People snapped pictures of Wagner’s tanks, or argued with its fighters. “What is happening,” wondered Irina Alenina, a resident of Rostov-on-Don, in a local news group on Vkontakte, a social messaging app. “A civil war is starting, or something like that,” responded Aleksandr Salazov.

State-run television and newspapers were reporting the events in real time, forgoing their previous tradition of putting the ballet “Swan Lake” on an endless loop until the crisis of the moment had passed.

Some Russians remembered similar crises from the past, like the periodic eruptions that marked the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

“I remember I was 5 and was going to a kindergarten and tanks were shooting at the White House on TV,” wrote Dmitri Dakhin on Vkontakte, referring to the shelling of what was Russia’s parliament building in Moscow at the time. “Now I am 35 and again something bad happens.”

Some of the calm could be attributed to support for Mr. Putin. Olga Rudeva, 64, said that trust in the Russian leader had made the situation now very different from the turmoil of the coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991.

A tour guide in Voronezh — one of the cities reached by the Wagner forces en route to Moscow on Saturday before Mr. Prigozhin said he had ordered them to turn around — Ms. Rudeva said in a telephone interview that, back then, people were afraid of the unknown. In contrast, she said, she was about to go out for a walk and her grandchildren had gone to the park to swim. She acknowledged that there were lines outside gas stations, but suggested that was not so much a reflection of concern as of people’s desire to simply do something in reaction to the news.

In Moscow, at the Manege exhibition hall right near the Kremlin walls, it was the last day for an exhibition of works by a nationalistic, patriotic painter named Vasily Nesterenko, built around the theme that God had long protected Russia.

There was a long line to get in, said Ms. Khrushcheva, who listened to the chatter among waiting patrons. “They were discussing how we are great and patriotic and God is with us,” she said, “and that the Kremlin is not going to let us suffer and nothing bad will happen.”

Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.

June 24, 2023, 10:39 a.m.

Isabella Kwai

Britain convened an emergency meeting of government officials earlier on Saturday to discuss the situation in Russia, including the presence of British nationals in Russia, the British foreign office said in a statement.

June 24, 2023, 10:45 a.m.

Yonette Joseph

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Canada’s incident response group, an emergency committee, would meet on Saturday to discuss the developments in Russia.

June 24, 2023, 10:31 a.m.

Anatoly Kurmanaev

As the Wagner convoy appeared to move rapidly toward Moscow on Saturday, the group’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, remained out of public view. But in his last posted video, in the morning, he claimed to speak from the Rostov military headquarters.


June 24, 2023, 10:14 a.m.

Cassandra Vinograd, Reporting from Kyiv

The Foreign Ministry of Iran — a key ally of Putin — issued a terse statement about the developments in Russia, saying only that they were an “internal issue” for the country and that Tehran supports the rule of law there.

June 24, 2023, 10:12 a.m.

Maria Varenikova

Ukrainians have been quick to generate joking memes and videos throughout the war — and the Prigozhin developments were no exception. A popular drone unit commander known by the code name Madyar posted video of himself taking in the news, with loads of popcorn.

June 24, 2023, 10:06 a.m.

Eric Schmitt

The U.S. points to heightened uncertainty amid Russia’s crisis, officials say.

People in uniform stand on a highway amid vehicles.
Patrolling a highway at the edge of Moscow on Saturday. (Associated Press)

United States officials said on Saturday they were closely watching the situation in Russia but did not want to say anything publicly that could give President Vladimir V. Putin reason to blame the United States or Western allies for the turmoil.

“We are monitoring the situation and will be consulting with allies and partners on these developments,” Adam Hodge, a National Security Council spokesman, said on Friday night.

Privately, however, American officials said the rebellion, led by Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner paramilitary group, weakened Mr. Putin’s standing and injected potentially dangerous new uncertainty into Washington’s dealings with Moscow.

The situation is bad for Mr. Putin under any scenario, said one senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the rapidly unfolding security situation.

Any direct threat to Mr. Putin’s hold on power depends on the support of top Russian commanders and security officials, like Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the deputy commander of the Kremlin’s Ukraine campaign, and Aleksandr Bortnikov, Russia’s domestic spy chief, the official said.

On Friday, General Surovikin urged Wagner fighters to give up their opposition to the military leadership and return to their bases.

“I urge you to stop,” he said in a video message posted on Telegram. “The enemy is just waiting for the internal political situation to worsen in our country.”Show more

June 24, 2023, 10:01 a.m. ETJune 24, 2023June 24, 2023

Matthew Mpoke Bigg

Kyiv taunts Moscow over the rebellion.

A person stands on a city street near a tank.
Members of the Wagner group atop a tank in a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Saturday. (Agence France-Presse )

The government in Kyiv taunted the Kremlin on Saturday as Russia faced a rebellion by a mercenary leader whose forces have fought in Ukraine, saying that Moscow’s invasion was rebounding on Russia itself.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said that “Russia’s weakness is obvious” and portrayed the uprising against Moscow, led by Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, a mercenary and business tycoon, as an example of divine justice.

“Everyone who chooses the path of evil destroys himself,” Mr. Zelensky said on Twitter. “The longer Russia keeps its troops and mercenaries on our land, the more chaos, pain and problems it will have for itself later.”

Mr. Prigozhin claimed on Saturday that his forces had control over the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and could march on Moscow. It was too soon to know what effects those events might have on the war in Ukraine, but Mr. Zelensky said that they underpinned his government’s rationale for resisting Russian aggression.

“Ukraine is able to protect Europe from the spread of Russian evil and chaos,” he said, and appeared to suggest that the events would galvanize Ukrainian troops who launched a counteroffensive this month. “We keep our resilience, unity and strength. All our commanders, all our soldiers know what to do.”

Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to Mr. Zelensky, echoed the theme. He posted a photo of himself standing with Ukrainian military leaders, saying that Mr. Zelensky’s team was “together.”

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, taunted what he described as Russian weakness and used the turmoil as an opportunity to again press Ukraine’s allies for more weapons.

“Those who said Russia was too strong to lose: Look now,” he said on Twitter. “Time to abandon false neutrality and fear of escalation; give Ukraine all the needed weapons; forget about friendship or business with Russia.”

The head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, said that Russia’s invasion, which began in 2014 with the illegal annexation of Crimea and has included the seizing of territory in eastern Ukraine, would come back to Russia.

“As the war began, so it will end — inside Russia,” he said on Twitter. “The process has begun.”Show more

June 24, 2023, 9:47 a.m.

Christopher Buckley

China’s leadership and Foreign Ministry have yet to issue any public comment on the challenge to Putin’s power in Russia, which is a crucial partner of China against Western powers. But Chinese social media is filled with comments, some remarking that the Chinese Communist Party’s iron hold on the military makes a situation like this virtually impossible in China.

June 24, 2023, 9:44 a.m.

Anatoly Kurmanaev

The Wagner armored units moving toward Moscow appear to have reached the Lipetsk region in Russia. The vehicles are traveling on federal highways and seem to be avoiding city centers, many of which have been fortified by local military garrisons. A video posted on social media on Saturday and verified by The New York Times shows a column of military vehicles believed to be loyal to Wagner near the Lipetsk town of Elets, about 250 miles south of Moscow.

June 24, 2023, 10:00 a.m.

Anatoly Kurmanaev

The governor of Lipetsk, Igor Artamonov, confirmed that Wagner units were moving through the region. Artamonov urged calm and said in a Telegram post that the situation remained under control

Putin embraced turmoil, and now it is rattling his leadership.
A man in a dark suit in front of a row of older men in suits with military medals pinned to their lapels, and a second row of uniformed officers behind them.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, center, greeting veteran soldiers as he attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Alexandrovsky Garden near the Kremlin wall in Moscow on Thursday.(Sputnik)

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia always seemed to thrive on chaos. Then it threatened to consume him.

For the last few months, as the mercenary chieftain Yevgeny V. Prigozhin escalated his feud with the Russian military, Mr. Putin did not publicly reveal any discomfort with his diatribes. The silence fostered the kind of political ambiguity that has long been a trademark of Mr. Putin’s rule: tolerating, even encouraging, conflict among the elite because it kept potential rivals in check, while underscoring that ultimate authority always rested with the president himself.

The Russian leader’s key litmus test was loyalty — a fact that Mr. Prigozhin showed he understood, even amid his recent criticism of the military leadership: “I listen to Putin,” he said in May. And yet on Saturday, after more than 20 years profiting from his personal ties to Mr. Putin, Mr. Prigozhin cast the last shreds of that loyalty aside and plunged Russia into its biggest political crisis in three decades, as his forces seized control of key military facilities in the southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don and threatened to enter Moscow.

The specter of a pitched battle for Moscow appeared averted — at least for the moment — on Saturday night, after Mr. Prigozhin declared that he was turning around his troops who had been marching toward the Russian capital.

But at no point since being named acting president on Dec. 31, 1999, had Mr. Putin faced such a dramatic challenge. And it came from a man who — like much of Russia’s elite — owes his power and status to the informal, personalist style of the Russian president.

“Putin underestimated” the threat posed by Mr. Prigozhin, said Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. “He thought he was totally dependent and loyal.”

Mr. Putin’s patience with Mr. Prigozhin’s outbursts this year may have served his political purposes, but it prompted officials stunned by Mr. Prigozhin’s verbal attacks on Russia’s top brass to conclude that he enjoyed the president’s tacit support, analysts said. It also further emboldened Mr. Prigozhin, who even as he launched his armed rebellion insisted that “this is not a coup” and that “presidential authority” would remain in place.

The confusion over Mr. Putin’s personal views only came to an end Saturday morning, when the president delivered a five-minute address to the nation describing Mr. Prigozhin — without naming him — as a traitor and vowing to quell the uprising the paramilitary leader had started. But the damage had already been done.

Throughout Saturday’s drama, there were no immediate signs that Mr. Putin’s hold on power was about to crumble, with no one in the Russian elite publicly siding with Mr. Prigozhin. Other powerful men at the nodes of Mr. Putin’s informal power structure — like Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman leader of the southern Russian region of Chechnya, who controls his own paramilitary force — voiced their support for the president on Saturday.

To be sure, amid the fast-moving developments, there was no way to know whether Mr. Prigozhin may have garnered some support behind the scenes. Nor was it clear what would come of the deal he struck with President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, whose government announced late Saturday that it had brokered an agreement to defuse the crisis.

The events were a striking consequence of the informal power structure that Mr. Putin built up in his 23 years at Russia’s helm. For more than two decades, the system helped Mr. Putin secure his unrivaled authority, ensuring that he personally held the keys to wealth and influence in modern Russia.

People who know Mr. Putin say that the president has always been comfortable with that personalized system, because it allowed him to entrust key tasks to a trusted inner circle while preventing the rise of rival cliques that could undermine him. And it ensured that the institutions of the state — from the courts to Parliament to the news media to the multiple security services — remained mere instruments in internecine power plays mediated by Mr. Putin, rather than sources of influence in their own right.

An armored vehicle with a red Z painted on its side rolls down a street in front of a large residential building.
Fighters of from the Wagner private mercenary group deployed on a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Saturday. (Reuters)

Shortly after taking power, Mr. Putin used brute force to crush the “oligarch” business tycoons who held immense sway over President Boris N. Yeltsin in the 1990s. He then allowed competition among rival groups to fester, even fostering security agencies with overlapping responsibilities; for instance, an Investigative Committee, a Prosecutor General and a Federal Security Service are all involved in investigating crimes.

In the war-torn Chechnya region, Mr. Kadyrov built up a private fief while professing loyalty to no official but Mr. Putin himself.

One Russian business tycoon, reflecting on Mr. Prigozhin’s rise while speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Mr. Putin’s approach to his rule was always “divide and conquer.” As another put it, referring to Russia’s rival law enforcement authorities: “You never know who will arrest you.”

Mr. Putin’s strategy extended beyond Russia to foreign policy; he preferred to keep the world guessing about his intentions, as when his invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 stunned friend and foe alike.

But for those who did navigate that system, the rewards were stupendous. A judo sparring partner from Mr. Putin’s youth became a construction billionaire and built Mr. Putin’s landmark bridge to Crimea. Fellow K.G.B. veterans now oversee Russia’s military industrial complex and its oil sector. A friend from 1990s St. Petersburg is entrusted with control of Russia’s most important private media assets and of the bank said to be at the nexus of Mr. Putin’s own financial dealings.

And then there was Mr. Prigozhin, who has said that he met Mr. Putin in 2000 as a St. Petersburg restaurateur. He parlayed those personal ties into lucrative government contracts and styled himself as a ruthless, multipurpose problem solver for the Kremlin.

In 2016, as the Kremlin sought to swing the American presidential election to Donald J. Trump, Mr. Prigozhin jumped into the fray with an internet “troll factory,” waging “information warfare against the United States.” As Russia sought to expand its reach in Syria and Africa, Mr. Prigozhin deployed his growing Wagner mercenary force to those regions — allowing the Kremlin to project power while minimizing Russian military boots on the ground.

In Ukraine, as Mr. Prigozhin tells it, Wagner troops were only called in after Mr. Putin’s initial invasion plan failed. For much of the war’s first year, Mr. Prigozhin appeared above the law, as he toured Russian prisons to recruit thousands of convicts to bolster his force.

By early this year, the Kremlin appeared to be taking some steps to limit Mr. Prigozhin’s rise. Television commentators were directed to avoid mention of him on air, and he lost his ability to recruit convicts.

But Mr. Putin seemed to vacillate on his own support for Mr. Prigozhin. In May, he congratulated Wagner mercenaries for their role in the capture of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, in a statement posted on the Kremlin’s website. Weeks later, he backed the Defense Ministry’s push for mercenaries to sign service contracts with the Russian military by July 1, a demand that infuriated Mr. Prigozhin.

Many believed that the president saw good reason not to put a final stop to Mr. Prigozhin’s social media attacks on the Defense Ministry, which he characterized as inept, corrupt and indifferent to soldiers’ lives. Some analysts say Mr. Putin saw him as a useful figure — a check against the risk that a military leader could become overly popular.

Mr. Putin “needs someone quite weak and compromised” to represent the army politically, because in Russia, “even the most disastrous wars produce very popular generals,” said Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russian intelligence and a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis. “His scheme was to keep Prigozhin talking, but he miscalculated.”

As a result, as Mr. Putin scrambled to put down a rebellion that he warned on Saturday could lead to “anarchy and fratricide,” Mr. Prigozhin loomed as the Russian president’s own creation.

Mr. Prigozhin “had no real independent power base except the favor of the president,” Mark Galeotti, an expert on the Russian military and security services, said. “However this goes, it undermines Putin’s credibility and legitimacy.”

Neil MacFarquhar and Valerie Hopkins contributed reporting.

nytimes 06 24 2023

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