Russian mercenary Wagner group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an audio post Saturday that his forces were “turning our columns” from a march toward Moscow.
The announcement came shortly after Belarus president Aleksander Lukashenko claimed to have reached a deal with Prigozhin to halt the advance.
A statement from Lukashenko’s government read, “This morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin briefed his Belarusian counterpart on the situation in southern Russia with the private military company Wagner.”
“The heads of state agreed on joint actions,” the statement goes on, saying the deal offered to Prigozhin is “absolutely advantageous and acceptable,” and would involve security guarantees for Wagner.
What those guarantees were was not specified by Lukashenko. However, Russian state media reported on Saturday that a criminal case which the Russian intelligence agency FSB had opened against Prigozhin would be dropped while Wagner’s fighters would receive immunity.
In an earlier address on Saturday morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin had threatened to punish anyone involved in “armed rebellion” and accused them of treason.
His speech came hours after Prigozhin claimed to have “blockaded” the Russian city of Rostov.
On Friday, in a series of social media messages, Prigozhin had accused the Kremlin of misleading the Russian people about the rationale behind invading Ukraine in February 2022, saying, “The evil borne by the country’s military leadership must be stopped.”
Denying—at least in the moment—that he was waging a military coup against Putin’s leadership, Prigozhin said he had “25,000” followers who were on a “march for justice” into Rostov, near the Ukrainian front. By Saturday morning, the mercenaries were moving on in a convoy toward Moscow.
Translating a report from Pul Pervogo, a propaganda Telegram channel of the Lukashenko regime, Anton Gerashchenko, advisor to Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs, says it appears that Prigozhin had accepted the deal.
Meanwhile, taking advantage of the turmoil inside Russia, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Ukrainian forces launched simultaneous counteroffensives in multiple directions.
In her own Telegram post she said that the Ukrainian forces had made “progress in all directions,” adding that there was heavy fighting in southern Ukraine and that Russian forces were “on the defensive, making great efforts to stop our offensive actions.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky further said, “Today, the world saw that the bosses of Russia do not control anything. Nothing at all. Complete chaos. Complete absence of any predictability.”
He added that “the world should not be afraid” because “our unity…protects us.”
The White House, meanwhile, is reportedly evaluating what the greatest challenge to Putin’s authority in the history of his regime means for Russia over the long haul.
President Biden spoke Saturday about the situation with French President Emmmanuel Macron of France, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley also spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny.
“I told him about the offensive and offensive actions of our units,” Zaluzhny said, according to a readout of the conversation. “I informed him that the operation is going in accordance with the plan.”
A U.S. official said the Administration’s phone calls to European counterparts have been focused on the effort to “reassure them” and also reinforce the need to express a message of neutrality. “No one should be spiking the football.”