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Belarusian President negotiates deal with Russian private army

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A commander of the Russian mercenary group, Wagner, has stated that he ordered his troops to halt their march on Moscow and retreat to field camps in Ukraine on Saturday in an effort to prevent a dramatic escalation of the crisis that presented the most significant challenge to President Vladimir Putin during his over two-decade-long reign.

Moscow had anticipated the arrival of the Wagner Group’s forces, a private army led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, which had been fighting alongside Russia’s regular troops in Ukraine

. The city was forced to establish checkpoints with armoured vehicles and troops on its south edge as well as shutting down Red Square, while the mayor urged motorists to avoid certain roads. In an announcement, Prigozhin revealed that he had chosen to turn his men back to avoid internal conflict within Russia.

There has been no word as yet from Putin’s government in response to Prigozhin’s demand to oust Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s office revealed that Lukashenko had endeavoured to negotiate with Prigozhin, and that a deal had been reached.

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According to the Belarusian’s press office, Prigozhin had accepted the proposed compromise, which included security guarantees for the Wagner Group’s troops, but did not elaborate further.

During a final televised speech to the Russian nation, Putin branded the rebellion a “betrayal” and “treason,” and stated that those who led the uprising would face stringent consequences.

Putin also assured his citizens that the military and other government organisations had received the instruction necessary to deal with the situation. Putin has not yet confirmed what concessions he granted Prigozhin, if any. If Putin consents to Shoigu’s ouster, Prigozhin will most likely emerge from the conflict as a clear victor, severely damaging Putin’s authority. In the event that Prigozhin drops this request, Putin could reward him with more profitable government contracts which could further increase his fortune.

As Moscow braced for the arrival of forces from the Wagner Group, the private army led by Evgeny Prigozhin, the city began to institute several security measures. It is understood that Prigozhin’s men were just 200 kilometers from Moscow when he called off the plan to advance, averting potentially severe internal conflict.

Although Putin vowed harsh consequences for those responsible for leading the violent uprising and ensuring the military was appropriately prepared, it is not yet clear what concessions Putin may have made to Prigozhin. If Putin accedes to Prigozhin’s initial demands, this could undermine Putin’s authority and give Prigozhin an unprecedented advantage in the long term whilst damaging Putin’s credibility.

Some analysts believed that Prigozhin could appear to make concessions such as placing the Wagner Group under federal authority as a means to end the conflict, or he could choose, following the Verkhovna Rada’s decision on the Wagner Group issue, to return the group back to West Africa.

Earlier on Saturday, Prigozhin’s private army allegedly took control of the military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, which with its affiliation to the military, ran Russian operations in Ukraine. British officials confirmed that Wagner troops had material and vehicles in Lipetsk province, 360 km south of Moscow.

Authorities in the surrounding areas of Moscow elevated security measures and restricted some movement by creating checkpoints, arranging sandbags and setting up machine guns. Despite these measures, Prigozhin’s private army was still able to conduct operations throughout the city.

The situation began to escalate as Wagner troops marched close to the capital, leading to the establishment of a “counterterrorist regime” in Moscow and its surrounding environs, which resulted in mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, warning that traffic could be restricted in many areas of the city and that Monday would be a non-working day for most residents.

After launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Europe’s largest conflict since World War Two, Russia has been repeatedly condemned for the conflict it has caused, as it has killed tens of thousands of Ukrainians, displaced millions, and decimated entire cities.

The Russian infighting has created a golden opportunity for Ukrainian forces to take back Ukrainian territory seized by Russian forces. Ben Barry, senior land warfare fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, believes that Putin’s position has been weakened by these events and that Putin will continue to face challenges in the future.

As news of the rebellion broke out, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy argued that the march exposed cracks in the Kremlin. It showed, in his view, all Russian bandits, mercenaries, and oligarchs the simplicity of capturing Russian cities and arsenals. He suggested the West should provide Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets and ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles as these events played out. Despite the tension, however, there has been no direct involvement from the West, although officials from the US, Latvia, and Estonia have indicated that they are closely monitoring the situation and are increasing security at their borders as a precautionary measure.

While the rebellion could have had grave outcomes for the Russian government, fears of internal conflict appears to have inspired a peaceful solution, albeit one orchestrated by private forces. Wagner troops and equipment controlled the military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, a city some 1,000 km south of Moscow. A video posted on Russian messaging app channels showed Wagner troops getting ready to withdraw, with their departure being met with applause and cries of “thank you!” from locals.

Prigozhin was cautious about the factors that led to the decision to cease the troop’s advance on Moscow. He criticised the military leadership, stating that they permitted the troops to starve of ammunition and other essential supplies. In his audio message on Telegram, he vehemently defended himself against the accusation that he was betraying the state, stating that “we are patriots, not traitors.” He also believes that Putin has been misguided in attacking the Wagner Group.

The 62-year-old Prigozhin, a former convict, has long-standing affiliations with Putin and has won several profitable catering contracts with the Kremlin. He gained more extensive attention in the U.S. when he was charged with operating a covert social media campaign aimed at fomenting discord ahead of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory. Prigozhin and his Wagner Group have been involved in a series of global conflicts such as Syria, Libya, as well as several African countries, and now Ukraine.

Despite some speculation, the conflict did not lead to internal Russian strife, and no conclusive evidence has emerged to suggest Prigozhin was demanding Shoigu’s ouster. Whatever comprises were made, it was clear that avoiding conflict within Russia was an urgent priority for both sides. Ultimately, this event may further undermine the Kremlin’s already fragile stance in the international community.

Although the situation is now resolved peacefully, it has raised significant concerns worldwide as to the influence that private armies may exert over national governments and their relationships with each other. Furthermore, it highlights the significant impact that this new, unconventional form of private military contracting can potentially have on national and international politics. While the specifics of the recent conflict are still being investigated, it remains a clear warning sign that militaries must prioritize governments over private interests to ensure that they remain accountable to their citizens.

As we emerge from a tumultuous time in history, it is important for governments worldwide to remain diligent and prepare for potential similar crises in the future. The world must be ready to respond swiftly to any threat to international security and remain prepared to take appropriate measures to preserve and protect the lives of those under siege.

The international community will undoubtedly continue to monitor developments in Russia moving forward. While the recent conflict saw a peaceful resolution, its implications should not be overlooked. We must remain vigilant against these kinds of threats and utilize all available resources and tools to protect our nations.

Moscow’s leaders have positioned themselves to address the tension that has arisen in the wake of Russia’s territorial disputes. It has become increasingly apparent that a solution must be found to de-escalate these problems, particularly as they have led to retaliatory sanctions against Russia by the world’s major powers. The global community must work together to resolve these crises, but this is not an easy task, and it requires the cooperation of Russia and other nations to find effective solutions.

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