Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 487: Ukrainian FM says Chaos in Russia works to Kyiv’s advantage

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine in February 2022 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

Ukraine: Wagner rising “most ridiculous attempt at mutiny” ever

An adviser to the Ukrainian defence minister described the Wagner rebellion in Russia as “the most ridiculous attempt at mutiny” ever.

“This only makes Russia weaker and makes us stronger,” Yuriy Sak told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.

“What happened yesterday in Russia, it will probably go down in history as the most ridiculous attempt at mutiny that was ever attempted,” he continued.

“It will have no bearing on our plans. We are on a mission to liberate our land and I just hope that our allies watching this ridiculous mutiny yesterday, they understand that the only way to end the war in Ukraine is to ensure that Ukraine defeats Russia militarily,” he added.

“There can be no hope for some kind of internal transformation in Russia. It’s only going to happen on the battlefield,” Sak stated.

Putin appeared on state TV and renewed commitment to “special military operation”

President Vladimir Putin has appeared on Russian state TV for the first time since the armed rebellion threatened to topple his regime.

He renewed his commitment to the war in Ukraine, calling the “special military operation” his top priority.

“I start and end my day with this,” the president said, adding that he is “confident” in realising all his plans and “tasks” related to the “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Russia claims military repelled attacks in Ukraine

Russia’s defence ministry on Sunday said it had repelled attempted attacks by Ukrainian forces in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine, Russian news agencies reported.

The ministry added it had repelled 10 attacks in the Bakhmut area over the last day, TASS news agency reported.

Wagner forces withdraw from Lipetsk

Wagner mercenaries have left the Russian region of Lipetsk after ending their rebellion against the Kremlin, according to the regional government.

“Units of PMC “Wagner,” which stopped the day before in the Lipetsk region, left the territory of the region,” it said on Telegram.

It comes after the governor of the southern Russian region of Voronezh said Wagner units are continuing their withdrawal and forces are departing “steadily and without incident.”

Armed Wagner fighters left the southern region of Rostov earlier after halting their advance on Moscow under a deal purportedly brokered by Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko and the private army’s leader.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner paramilitary group, agreed to leave Russia for Belarus, the Kremlin said Saturday. The armed insurrection marked the gravest threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authority in decades.

In a conference call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said an agreement was struck with Prigozhin.

“You will ask me what will happen to Prigozhin personally?” Peskov stated, adding, “The criminal case will be dropped against him. He himself will go to Belarus.”

The announcement defused a crisis that began when Wagner troops took control of a key military facility in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and some fighters advanced toward the capital.

Death toll in Kyiv missile attack rises to 5: Mayor

The death toll from an attack on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv early Saturday has risen to five, according to the city’s mayor.

Rescuers discovered two further bodies under the rubble of the 24-story apartment block in the city’s Solomyanskyi district, Vitali Klitschko said in a Telegram post Sunday,

In a previous post, Klitschko stated that ” fragments of a rocket hit the upper floors” of the building, filling them with smoke.

According to the mayor, rescuers are still working through the rubble of the multi-story building, which was damaged by falling missile debris.

US knew of Wagner coup plans in advance: Report

US intelligence agencies strongly suspected that Evgeny Prigozhin was planning a major move against the Russian government, days before the Wagner chief ordered his troops to march on Moscow, The New York Times reported, citing sources.

According to unnamed US officials interviewed by the paper, the administration of US President Joe Biden and military commanders were briefed on the Wagner preparations as early as Wednesday. As additional details came in, another briefing attended by a narrow group of congressional leaders was reportedly held on Thursday.

The situation escalated only on Friday night, when Prigozhin accused the Russian Defense Ministry of launching a deadly missile strike on a Wagner camp, and vowed retaliation. The ministry denied the allegation, accusing him of an “informational provocation.”

In the following hours, Wagner troops captured military facilities in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, while Prigozhin announced that his forces were beginning a “march for justice” with a plan to reach Moscow.

On Saturday, the Wagner boss agreed to halt his advance and withdraw his forces in exchange for “security guarantees,” as part of a deal brokered by Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko.

According to NYT sources, prior to the uprising, Washington officials were in no hurry to alert Russian President Vladimir Putin of an impending threat, as they feared that Moscow could accuse them of orchestrating a coup. Moreover, the US “had little interest” in helping Putin amid the Ukraine conflict and Russia’s stand-off with the West, the article says.

Still, US officials were reportedly alarmed by a possible conflict between Prigozhin and Moscow, as they worried that Russia’s descent into chaos could create considerable nuclear risks.

The NYT report was echoed by CNN, which claimed on Saturday that US officials had believed Prigozhin was planning to challenge the Russian military “for quite some time,” but did not know what his ultimate goal was.

According to CNN sources, Western officials had prior knowledge of Prigozhin’s preparations, including his efforts to accumulate weapons and ammunition. However, the outlet’s source noted that “it all happened very quickly,” and it was difficult to say whether the Wagner chief was serious about delivering on his threats to the Russian military.

Chechen special forces withdraw from Russia’s Rostov region

Chechen special forces deployed to Russia’s Rostov region to resist an advance by the Wagner mercenary group are withdrawing, the TASS news agency has reported, citing a commander.

The “Akhmat” special forces are returning to where they were fighting previously, commander Apty Alaudinov was quoted as saying by the news agency.

Wagner forces leaving Russia’s southern Voronezh region: Governor

Wagner fighters are leaving Russia’s southern Voronezh region, according to the local governor, after the group halted a dramatic rebellion against Kremlin.

“The movement of Wagner units through the Voronezh region is ending,” Voronezh governor Alexander Gusev stated.

“It is running normally and without incidents,” Gusev added, saying travel restrictions imposed during Saturday’s operation against the mutiny will be lifted once “the situation is finally resolved”.

Ukraine: Chaos in Russia works to our advantage

Chaos in Russia works to Kyiv’s advantage, Ukraine’s foreign minister says, after Yevgeny Prigozhin, a founder of the Wagner army, said he was halting his “march for justice” on Moscow after a deal with Kremlin.

“Any chaos behind the enemy lines works in our interests,” State-run Ukrinform news agency quoted Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba as saying.

Kuleba held a call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss the events and Kyiv’s counteroffensive efforts on Saturday.

Russia’s Rostov-on-Don calm after Prigozhin leaves

The situation around the headquarters of Russia’s Southern Military District in was calm and street traffic resumed, according to RIA state news agency, after Yevgeny Prigozhin and his mercenaries left the city.

In a video on the agency’s Telegram messaging app, which it said was taken in the city of Rostov-on-Don, a man was sweeping a street and cars were moving along another street.

All restrictions on highways in Russia lifted

All restrictions on highways in Russia have been lifted, Russian state media TASS reported, citing a Sunday statement from Russia’s Federal Road Agency.

On Saturday, Avtodor, the company that operates Russian highways, had advised drivers to avoid the M-4, a major highway in southern Russia, as reports swirled that convoys of Wagner fighters were using the road.

Earlier in the day, TASS reported that car traffic had been blocked on the M-4 highway past Rostov-on-Don towards Aksay.

Prigozhin “almost nullified” Putin: Ukrainian presidential adviser

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s Presidential Administration, said Wagner private military company boss Yevgeny Prigozhin’s escalation “almost nullified” Russian President Vladimir Putin, and criticized Prigozhin for turning his forces around from a march toward Moscow and reaching an apparent deal.

“Prigozhin’s phenomenal choice… You almost nullified Putin, took control of the central authorities, reached Moscow and suddenly… you retreat,” Podolyak said in a tweet posted in English.

“Because one very specific intermediary with a dubious reputation [Alexander] Lukashenko promised security guarantees from the person Putin who ordered to destroy you in the morning. And for the fear that the Putin elite has experienced in the past 24 hours, this order will certainly be executed,” he continued.

He added, “Although not without benefit: Prigozhin humiliated Putin/the state and showed that there is no longer a monopoly on violence.”

Ukraine launches simultaneous counteroffensives against several Russian fronts: Defense official

Taking advantage of the unfolding turmoil in Moscow on Saturday, Ukrainian forces launched simultaneous counteroffensives in multiple directions, according to Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar.

“The eastern grouping of troops today launched an offensive in several directions at the same time,” Maliar said in a Telegram post, naming several cities and towns, including Bakhmut and Yahidne, among the places where the offensive was launched.

Maliar stated that “there is progress in all directions” without giving any further detail.

She added there is heavy fighting ongoing in the south of the country, adding that Russian forces are “on the defensive, making great efforts to stop our offensive actions.”

Prigozhin and Wagner Group forces seen leaving Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don

Wagner private military company boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has left Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don in southwestern Russia, new video shows.

The video, posted to Telegram, shows Prigozhin sitting in the backseat of a vehicle. Crowds cheer and the vehicle comes to a stop as an individual approaches it and shakes Prigozhin’s hand.

He is heard saying “All the best” to the people gathered before the vehicle drives off.

Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti quoted an unnamed eyewitness that said Prigozhin left the headquarters “with the fighters.”

It’s the first time Prigozhin has been seen in public since he announced that his troops would “turn back” from Moscow and return to “field camps.” It is unclear where Prigozhin is currently en route to, but per the apparent deal, he is expected to be sent to Belarus and not face any criminal charges.

The video follows other clips posted to Telegram show Wagner forces withdrawing from their positions at the military headquarters, crowds surrounding a Wagner vehicle convoy and people cheering the forces after it was announced they would turn back.

Before the Wagner forces were seen leaving, video from Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti showed a Russian military police vehicle arriving at the military headquarters.

Kremlin says Wagner fighters will return to base and sign contracts with military

In a conference call with reporters, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov provided details about what he described as an agreement struck with Yevgeny Prigozhin, the boss of the Wagner private military company, to halt a march of his forces toward Moscow.

“An agreement was reached on the return of PMC Wagner to their locations. Part of those who will wish to do so, will sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense — this concerns those who did not take part in the march, indeed, there were such formations which, from the very beginning, changed their minds and returned. They even requested to be escorted by the traffic police and other assistance in order to return to their permanent locations,” he said.

Wagner fighters will not face legal action for taking part in the march, Peskov added, stating that the Kremlin has “always respected their heroic deeds” on the front lines in Ukraine.

Prighozhin has provided scant details about his agreement to about-face. Peskov said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was able to draw on a personal relationship with Prigozhin to broker the deal.

“The fact is that Alexander Grigoryevich [Lukashenko] has known Prigozhin personally for a long time, for about 20 years,” Peskov continued, adding, “And it was his personal proposal, which was agreed with Putin. We are grateful to the President of Belarus for these efforts.”

Earlier this month, Prigozhin had refused to sign contracts with Russia’s Defense Ministry, rejecting an attempt to bring his force in line. The defense ministry said that “volunteer units” and private military groups would be required to sign a contract.

Case against Prigozhin will be dropped and he will be sent to Belarus: Russia

Criminal charges against Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin will be dropped and he will be sent to neighboring Belarus, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

“You will ask me what will happen to Prigozhin personally?” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters Saturday.

“The criminal case will be dropped against him. He himself will go to Belarus,” he continued.

Peskov’s office later added in a text message to journalists that Prigozhin has a guarantee from Russian President Vladimir Putin to leave the country as part of the deal brokered to halt the march of Wagner forces toward Moscow.

“If you ask what kind of guarantee there is that Prigozhin will be able to leave for Belarus, this is the word of the President of Russia,” Peskov’s office said, adding, “The counter-terrorist operation regime will be lifted in the nearest future.”

Earlier Saturday, the Russian National Anti-Terrorism Committee announced the introduction of a “counter-terrorist operation regime” in Moscow, as well as the Moscow region and Voronezh region. Moscow’s mayor also declared Monday a “non-working day.”

Wagner head says he ordered fighters to turn back to avoid Russian bloodshed

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an audio recording Saturday that he had turned his private mercenary forces around from a march toward Moscow to avoid bloodshed.

“Now is the moment when blood can be shed. Therefore, realizing all the responsibility for the fact that Russian blood will be shed from one of the sides, we turn our columns around and leave in the opposite direction to the field camps according to the plan,” Prigozhin stated.

The Belarusian government has claimed President Alexander Lukashenko reached a deal with the Wagner boss to halt the march.

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