Russia dropped charges against participants in the Wagner paramilitary force’s armed insurrection and said the group had agreed to hand over its weaponry.
The announcements on Tuesday came in the wake of the deal between the Kremlin and Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin and appeared to mark progress towards resolving the stand-off.
The FSB, Russia’s main security service, said it had closed its investigation into the weekend rebellion because “it has been determined that its participants ceased the activities directly aimed at committing the crime”, according to state newswire Ria Novosti.
While in the immediate aftermath of the failed insurrection the Kremlin had said the charges would be dropped, they had remained in force, in an apparent bid to put pressure on Wagner to abide by the terms of the deal.
The Russian defence ministry, whose leaders have been the main target of Prigozhin’s ire for months as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to sputter, also said Wagner was preparing to hand over weaponry to the army.
“Preparations are ongoing for the transfer by Wagner PMC of heavy military equipment to active units of the Armed Forces of Russia,” the ministry said on Tuesday.
Wagner did not immediately confirm whether it would surrender its weapons.
The announcements, made within a few minutes of each other, came after President Vladimir Putin urged the paramilitary group’s fighters to join the army, stand down or leave the country.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday that the Russian leader had decided not to prosecute Prigozhin over the “extraordinary events,” Russia’s first coup attempt in three decades.
“There was a desire not to let the worst-case scenario happen,” Peskov said. “There were certain promises, the agreements are being realised.” Putin “always keeps his word,” he added.
Peskov said Putin would make another speech to army units who had taken part in resisting Prigozhin’s advance, even though the Wagner columns traversed most of the way to Moscow without much hindrance.
Pro-war bloggers began posting footage of hundreds of soldiers filing into the Kremlin ahead of Putin’s speech.
Prigozhin claimed on Monday that Wagner had previously planned to hand over its equipment to the defence ministry — until Russia’s army hit one of the group’s bases in an air strike last week. The ministry said Prigozhin’s claims were groundless and no strike was carried out.
On Monday evening, Putin delivered an angry television address in his first public appearance since the Kremlin agreed to a truce to end Prigozhin’s march on Moscow on Saturday.
In those comments, Putin said Wagner’s leaders had “betrayed the country and those who were with them”, adding that most of the group’s fighters were “patriots of Russia” who had been “used” by their command.
But the Kremlin and its allies now stress the value of the truce Russia struck with Wagner, despite criticism from some prominent pro-war figures.
Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko, who helped broker the deal, said on Tuesday that the Wagner militia’s weekend mutiny had been “painful for me to watch . . . because we share one fatherland”.
In comments first reported by Belta, the country’s national news agency, Lukashenko said he wanted to set the record straight about “the role played by Belarus in resolving the conflict”.
He said he had put the Belarusian army on full alert on Saturday after Prigozhin started the uprising in southern Russia and warned Belarus’s exiled opposition against trying to take advantage of the turmoil “to implement their scenario of an armed mutiny”.
Putin also suggested Ukraine had somehow been involved amid its ongoing counteroffensive against Russia’s invasion force.
“This fratricide is the result Russia’s enemies and the neo-Nazis in Kyiv, their western masters, and all sorts of national traitors wanted. They wanted Russian soldiers to kill each other,” Putin said in his television address on Monday.
“So that in the end Russia lost and our society was split, drowning in bloody sectarian strife. They were rubbing their hands in glee as they dreamed of revenge for their failures on the front during their so-called counteroffensive, but they miscalculated,” Putin added.