Heavy military hardware held by the Wagner Group will be transferred to Russian troops, the Russian defence ministry has said, as Moscow moves to bring the rebellious mercenary group under its control.
“Preparations are under way for the transfer of heavy military equipment from the private military company Wagner to units of the Russian armed forces,” the Russian defence ministry said on Tuesday.
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Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin led a brief mutiny at the weekend in Russia, sparking the most serious security crisis in decades and raising questions over President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power, as Moscow’s war in Ukraine drags on.
But despite the gravity of the armed rebellion, Russia’s Federal Security Service announced it had closed a criminal case against the Wagner fighters who were seeking to topple the country’s military leadership.
On Saturday, Prigozhin ultimately called off an advance towards Moscow after Wagner forces seized the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, a nerve centre of the war in Ukraine, and shot down six Russian helicopters and a command and control plane.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko led mediation efforts, bringing about an abrupt resolution to the crisis.
The Kremlin has since been at pains to stress that there had been a return to normal.
‘Serious security problems’
In his first address to the nation since the rebels pulled back, Putin on Monday said he had issued orders to avoid bloodshed and granted amnesty to the Wagner fighters.
He then accused Ukraine and its Western allies of wanting Russians to “kill each other” during the revolt.
Prigozhin defended his actions as a protest – a bid to save his mercenary outfit and expose the failures of Russia’s military leadership, but not to challenge the Kremlin.
In his first audio message since the incident, he bragged that the ease of Wagner’s advance on Moscow exposed “serious security problems”.
“We went to demonstrate our protest and not to overthrow power in the country,” Prigozhin said, boasting that his men had “blocked all military infrastructure” including air bases on their route before they stopped 200 kilometres (125 miles) from Moscow.
The turmoil in Russia was welcomed in Ukraine as an opportunity to seek momentum for a continuing counteroffensive.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday said his forces had “advanced in all directions” after visiting soldiers on the front line in the eastern Donetsk region and the south of the country.
Ukraine also reported minor successes in the east and repelled Russian counterattacks at several points on the front, including near Bakhmut, Lyman and Avdiivka, where the fighting is said to be particularly fierce.