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Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of Russia’s feared Wagner paramilitary group, allegedly said on Saturday that he was halting his force’s advance toward Moscow to avoid bloodshed after a last-minute deal was reportedly brokered to bring the crisis to an end. On Sunday, Wagner mercenaries were reportedly headed back to base after an agreement allowing Prigozhin to accept exile in Belarus.
The announcement comes after Prigozhin reportedly reached a deal with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko to stop the situation from escalating further after Wagner had advanced hundreds of miles over the past 12 hours on its way to Moscow.
The New York Times reported that some experts urged people to remain skeptical about whether Prigozhin had actually ordered his troops to suddenly reverse course. Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, said, “I don’t believe it until I see it.”
The Wall Street Journal added that Prigozhin “has a history of going back on his promises.”
Prigozhin allegedly said in an audio message posted to Telegram that he was “turning our columns around and going back in the other direction toward our field camps, in accordance with the plan.”
“This morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin briefed his Belarusian counterpart on the situation in southern Russia with the private military company Wagner,” the Belarusian government claimed in a statement. “The heads of state agreed on joint actions.”
“As a follow-up to the agreements, the President of Belarus, having being additionally informed on the situation through his own channels, and in agreement with the President of Russia, held talks with the head of Wagner PMC Yevgeny Prigozhin,” the statement continued. “Yevgeny Prigozhin accepted the proposal of the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko to stop the movement of armed persons of the Wagner company on the territory of Russia and take further steps to de-escalate tensions.”
The Times noted that Prigozhin did not indicate if his forces would relinquish control of military installations they seized Rostov-on-Don.
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