Prigozhin orders his fighters to turn back from Moscow to avoid bloodshed

Mutinous Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Saturday he had ordered his fighters, who had been advancing on Moscow, to turn around and return to their bases in order to avoid bloodshed.

Prigozhin said his fighters had advanced to within 200 km (124 miles) of Moscow in the last 24 hours.

“They wanted to disband the Wagner military company. We embarked on a march of justice on June 23. In 24 hours we got to within 200 km of Moscow. In this time we did not spill a single drop of our fighters’ blood,” he said.

“Now the moment has come when blood could be spilled. Understanding responsibility [for the chance] that Russian blood will be spilled on one side, we are turning our columns around and going back to field camps as planned,” Prigozhin added.

Wagner fighters were heading towards Moscow, aimed at toppling the Russian military leadership, after seizing control of the southern city of Rostov-on-Don overnight.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an emergency televised address on Saturday that an “armed mutiny” by the Wagner Group mercenary force was treason, and that anyone who had taken up arms against the Russian military would be punished.

He said he would do everything to protect Russia, and that “decisive action” would be taken to stabilize the situation in Rostov-on-Don, a southern city where Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said his forces had taken control of all military installations.

“We won’t let it repeat (a civil war). We will protect our people and our statehood from any threats including treason from the inside. What we are facing now is treason. Unreasonable ambitions and personal interests lead to treachery, state treason, and betrayal of own people and the common cause which Wagner fighters and commanders fought for along and died for alongside with other our units and brigades,” Putin said.

Prigozhin, whose Wagner militia spearheaded the capture of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut last month, has for months been openly accusing Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russia’s top general, Valery Gerasimov, of rank incompetence and of denying Wagner ammunition and support in its battles in Ukraine.