The Wagner paramilitary group is handing over its military hardware to the Russian Armed Forces, the Kremlin’s defence ministry said, amid speculation it is being broken up.
The private army was central to one of the most dramatic days in recent Russian history at the weekend, when leader Yevgeny Prigozhin ordered it to march on Moscow as he raged about perceived mismanagement of the war in Ukraine.
Russians and governments around the world were preparing for the real possibility of a coup on Saturday, before Prigozhin abruptly called off the march.
His soldiers left the southern military HQ at Rostov-on-Don, which they reportedly took over without much resistance, and he is believed to have left for Belarus under the terms of a deal brokered by Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko.
It now appears that the deal might also have involved the end of Wagner as a military force.
Russia’s RIA news agency reported that the country’s official army was taking possession of hardware used by the private military company (PMC) in the field.
The defence ministry was quoted saying: ‘Preparations are underway for the transfer of PMC Wagner heavy military equipment to the active units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.’
As for the group’s other valuable asset – its fighters, many of whom are violent criminals hired directly from prison – the future also looks to be unexpectedly free of serious consequences.
Under the deal, they could choose to either join the Russian army, return to their families or leave the country for Belarus.
The FSB, Russia’s top security agency, recently announced that nobody who took part in the armed insurrection would face prosecution because ‘the participants had ceased actions directly aimed at committing the crime’.
That is despite at least a dozen members of the Russian armed forces being killed by Wagner troops during the uprising, which took place over a period of less than 24 hours.
In a speech to his security services this morning, Vladimir Putin said the country’s military and law enforcement ‘essentially prevented a civil war’ by acting ‘clearly and coherently’.
The people of Russia were not on the side of the ‘mutineers’, he told the audience – although videos taken at the weekend showed crowds of people cheering on Wagner fighters as they moved north towards Moscow.
The president announced a minute’s silence for the pilots who were shot down and killed during Saturday’s mutiny.
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