Over the weekend, Russia briefly faced the possibility of an armed uprising as Wagner Group mercenaries marched into Moscow and President Vladimir Putin threatened retaliation. However, the crisis appeared to be immediately defused by a surprising agreement.
Experts caution that the unusual rebellion is still likely to have effects down the road, despite the fact that the immediate risk of killing seems to have subsided.
Putin now has to deal with the fallout from the most significant threat to his authority since he took office more than 20 years ago, which put him on the back foot for a day and a half.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the provocative march and subsequent city seizures, is still missing, and it is unclear what became of him. The generally vocal oligarch, who would be transported to Belarus and his troops absorbed by the Russian military under the deal mediated by Minsk, has remained silent about it.
On Sunday, neither the Kremlin nor Belarusian authorities could pinpoint his location.
This is what we do know.
What’s the latest?
Prigozhin has decided to depart Russia for Belarus, according to the agreement outlined by the Kremlin and the Belarusian government. His whereabouts are still a mystery.
Officials from Belarus told CNN on Sunday that they were unsure of Prigozhin’s position there and were unable to confirm whether he had actually arrived.
Prigozhin’s Concord management company’s press office declined to provide an update, saying CNN simply that the warlord “sends his regards to everyone and will answer questions when he has proper communication.”
A criminal lawsuit against Prigozhin for the uprising will be discontinued, according to a Kremlin spokeswoman.
The official added that Wagner fighters will now enter into contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defence, a development Prigozhin had previously opposed as an effort to pull his paramilitary force into line.
Prigozhin and his troops were seen leaving Rostov-on-Don in videos that CNN verified and geolocated on Saturday.
How did this happen?
On Friday, Prigozhin accused the Russian military of storming a Wagner camp and killing his troops. He then threatened to use force to avenge their deaths.
Then, Prigozhin led his men into Rostov-on-Don and announced that his army had gained possession of crucial military buildings in the Voronezh region, where there had apparently been a battle between Russian and Wagner forces.
It wasn’t a coup, said Prigozhin; it was a “march of justice.” The acts of Prigozhin, though, were described by a top security officer as a “staged coup d’état,” according to Russian state media, and that didn’t do much to calm Moscow down.
The Russian internal security service filed a criminal complaint against Prigozhin, while the Russian Defence Ministry denied attacking Wagner’s soldiers.
Then Putin gave a noteworthy national address.
On Saturday morning local time, a clearly enraged Putin promised to punish individuals who were “on a path to treason” in a speech that was televised throughout Russia.
He compared the group’s actions to the 1917 Russian Revolution, which deposed Tsar Nicholas II in the midst of World War I, and described Wagner’s “betrayal” as a “stab in the back of our country and our people.”
On the ground, there was unrest, and residents of Voronezh were advised to stay inside. Moscow increased security throughout the capital in the meantime, making Monday a non-working day. Photos show Russian military near a motorway outside of Moscow wearing body armour and carrying automatic rifles.
All indications pointed to an imminent military conflict in the city as rumours and doubts abounded.
Then, very immediately after it started, the