The criminal investigation into a popular mercenary leader and thousands of his troops was formally closed Tuesday in the wake of their 36-hour armed revolt Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged brought his country to the brink of “civil war.”
The Federal Security Service said the case won’t be pursued because Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner Group fighters “ceased (criminal) activities,” ending an insurgency that revealed deep cracks in Putin’s authoritarian rule.
“Taking into account this and other circumstances relevant to the investigation, the investigative authority issued a resolution to terminate the criminal case on June 27,” the FSB statement said.
Prigozhin, who has made a fortune through military-related companies, halted his march to Moscow on Saturday after the Kremlin agreed not to pursue charges against him or his followers. The FSB announcement came hours after Putin addressed his nation, calling the perpetrators of the uprising “traitors” and “enemies of Russia.”
Earlier Monday, Prigozhin issued his own statement claiming he halted his campaign because he didn’t want to spill Russian blood and because the goal was protest, not regime change. Prigozhin, under terms of the deal with the Kremlin, was allowed to leave Russia for neighboring Belarus.
∙Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday confirmed media reports that Prigozhin had arrived in Belarus. “Security guarantees … were provided,” Lukashenko said.
∙Heavy equipment from Prigozhin’s Wagner Group is being transferred to the Russian military, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday. It was not immediately clear what role Prigozhin’s troops, thought to number up to 50,000, will play in the war going forward.
Russia’s military and law enforcement agencies took steps in the crucial hours of the insurgency, saving the country from civil war, Russian President Vladimir Putin told soldiers and other law enforcement personnel Tuesday. The honorees “stood in the way of disorder, which would have inevitably led to chaos,” Putin said.
“You saved our homeland from turmoil, and actually stopped civil war,” Putin told soldiers gathered in the Kremlin’s Cathedral Square. “In a dramatic situation you acted clearly and coherently, proved your loyalty to the people of Russia and the military oath and displayed responsibility for the fate of the Motherland and its future.”
He also called for a moment of silence to “honor the memory” of more than a dozen pilots and others who were killed in the uprising. Prigozhin said his troops were attacked by planes and helicopters, a claim the Kremlin has denied.
Russia has shipped nuclear weapons to Belarus and are aiding Belarusian security forces in guarding the weaponry, Lukashenko said Tuesday. Lukashenko added Wagner mercenary troops, many of whom have reportedly crossed the border into Belarus, will not guard the nuclear armaments, Belarus Today reported. “This is our task,” he said, adding that while Russia is providing some services, he is “primarily responsible” for the security of the weapons.
“We are working together. We have no such experience,” Lukashenko said at a military ceremony in Minsk. “We are helping to service these nuclear weapons (but) it turns out that this is not an easy undertaking.”
Putin had announced in March plans to ship some tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, Russia’s closest ally in the Ukraine war. Belarus borders Russia and Ukraine.
Putin dismissed Prigozhin’s claims that his troops were underfunded, saying Tuesday that from May 2022 to May 2023 the Russian government paid the Wagner Group more than $1 billion. Putin also said that Prigozhin himself earned almost $1 billion through his military companies by supplying food and providing catering services to the army. While Prigozhin appears to be in the clear for leading the insurgency, Putin seemed to leave the door open to possible charges based on financial dealings.
“I hope that during these works no one stole anything,” Putin said. “But, of course, we will deal with all this.”