Wagner boss says he will turn back to avoid bloodshed after coming within hours of Moscow

Wagner boss says he will turn back to avoid bloodshed after coming within hours of Moscow
Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin makes a statement as he stand next to Wagner fighters in an undisclosed location in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict.Press service of "Concord"/Handout via REUTERS
  • Wagner mercenaries came within hours of Moscow, threatening Putin's grip on power.
  • The Russian forces are led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a billionaire and former close ally of Putin.

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has said he's ordering his mercenary forces to turn back before entering Moscow, claiming he doesn't want to shed a drop of Russian blood.

In an audio message posted on Telegram, Prigozhin said he was reversing course to prevent violence. The billionaire, who claims to be commanding a force of 25,000 men, said his troops would now be returning to their camps. "According to plan," he claimed.

The sudden reversal comes after the government of Belarus claimed that President Aleksandr Lukashenko had been in talks all Saturday with Prigozhin.

Lukashenko, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, had earlier spoken with his Russian counterpart, according to a press statement, and was able to reach an agreement with Wagner's commander "on the inadmissibility of unleashing a bloody massacre on the territory of Russia."

Moscow had been preparing for armed conflict. On Saturday afternoon, Mayor Sergey Sobyanin urged residents to remain indoors and refrain from unnecessary travel — even ordering them to stay home from work on Monday — while authorities conducted a "counter-terrorist operation."


Prigozhin had for years been a close ally of the Russian president, dubbed "Putin's chef" after growing wealthy from state catering contracts. But the outspoken billionaire feuded with Russian military leaders ever since the 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, accusing them of sabotaging the war effort.

He launched his "march for justice" on Friday after claiming, without hard evidence, that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had ordered an air strike on Wagner forces in Ukraine.

In a speech on Saturday, Putin accused Prigozhin of treason. A warrant has been issued for his arrest, with Russia's FSB accusing him of inciting an armed rebellion.

With much of the Russian military bogged down in Ukraine, however, few security forces have been left to challenge Wagner directly. The mercenaries were quickly able to capture Rostov-on-Don, a port city home to more than one million people, before continuing on toward Moscow.

Russian authorities had sought to thwart Wagner's progress by blocking and indeed sabotaging the M4 highway, which runs from the capital to Rostov-on-Don. According to videos and photos shared on social media, Wagner forces were also in possession of advanced air defense equipment, limiting the Kremlin's ability to attack them from the sky.