MOSCOW: In a surprising turn of events, Russian authorities have dropped charges against Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the private paramilitary group Wagner, and other individuals involved in an armed rebellion against the Russian regime. The decision comes nearly three days after Prigozhin announced the halt of his operation to oust the Russian government, citing a deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
The development unfolded around 12 hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin strongly condemned the organizers of the weekend revolt, considering them "traitors" who had played into the hands of Ukraine's government and its allies. The investigation by the Russian Federal Security Service, which was opened on June 23 under Article 279 of the Criminal Code for armed mutiny, concluded that the participants had ceased their actions aimed at committing the crime on June 24. Considering this and other relevant circumstances, the investigative authority decided to terminate the criminal case on June 27.
Interestingly, the Kremlin's attempt to downplay the significance of the coup came nearly 24 hours after Prigozhin released an audio statement on Telegram. In the statement, he expressed a desire to avoid bloodshed and asserted that the march was a demonstration of protest rather than an intention to overthrow the government.
Prigozhin revealed that his private military company, Wagner, had embarked on the march to prevent the disbandment of the group due to a government order requiring its soldiers to sign contracts with the Defense Ministry by July 1. He accused Russia's military of attacking his troops, which led to his decision to take action. Prigozhin, however, did not disclose his current location or future plans.
The series of dramatic events unfolded in Russia on Saturday when Prigozhin called for mutiny, revealing a public feud between the country's official armed forces and the private military group. Videos emerged showing Wagner fighters capturing the city of Rostov before racing north in a convoy, carrying tanks and armored trucks, and breaking through barricades set up to stop them. Media reports also claimed that the group had targeted oil depots and important buildings.
However, after Putin issued a stern warning to the group, the head of Wagner announced the suspension of the operation. Prigozhin, a trusted ally of President Putin, justified his decision as an effort to avoid bloodshed. In the recent audio statement, he mentioned that Belarusian President Lukashenko had offered to find legal solutions for the future operations of Wagner PMC.
The dropping of charges against Prigozhin and his associates raises questions about the underlying motivations and dynamics at play in Russian politics and the relationship between official and private armed forces. The situation remains fluid, and further developments are awaited to ascertain the long-term implications of this episode.