Mutinous Wagner troops halt advance on Moscow after Russian capital placed on “anti-terror alert”

Can Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenary army topple President Vladimir Putin? The answer is no. Can Prigozhin achieve his aim of ousting Russia’s defense minister Sergei Shoigu and army chief Valery Gerasimov? Not likely. Putin will keep these bulwarks of his presidency safe from his erstwhile ally, whom he castigated on Saturday, June 24, for “betrayal” and “treason.” He warned “those who prepared the rebellion” would suffer “inevitable punishment.”

Saturday night, the Wagner army had come within 400km of Moscow after taking the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don near the Ukraine border. By midday the convoy was halfway to the capital at Voronezh and advancing along the M4 highway to Moscow. Russian troops armed with machine guns were deployed outside the capital and alongside the route, which was closed to traffic from Friday night. An “anti-terror alert” was declared Saturday morning extending special powers to the city’s authorities.

However, on Saturday night, Prigozhin suddenly ordered his army to halt its advance on Moscow “to avoid bloodshed.”

The Wagner force was created by Putin in 2015. He bought Prigozhin’s plan to finance a separate military force to function outside the regular army in the service of the Kremlin’s overseas objectives. They took their model from the private security contractors used by the Americans. The force that swelled to a total of 50,000 fighting men has fought for Russia in troubled arenas like Syria, Sudan, Libya and Ukraine. The army itself disliked the mercenary force, mainly because, unlike US contractors, its units are mostly manned by convicted criminals set free to enlist.

The Wagner force and the Russian army finally clashed on the Ukraine battlefield. Prigozhin thought his men should come first in the allocation of weapons and ammunition supplies. The generals took issue. He then challenged the army, accusing Shoigu of hiding “colossal” failings on the battlefield from Putin. He claied that 2,000 Wagner men were killed as a result of strikes ordered by the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Western media reported Saturday night that public buildings in the Kremlin and museums nearby were evacuated and roadblocks thrown up at the gates of the capital. The German “Der Spiegel” reported panic in the city; airline tickets to Tbilisi, Astana and Istanbul had run out. The mayor of Moscow, Sergey Sobyanin, advised citizens to stay close to home and off the roads. Place of employment were ordered to stay closed on Monday after the weekend.
In Jerusalem a travel advisory was issued to Israelis to avoid trips to Russia until further notice. The foreign ministry estimates that around 70,000 Israeli citizens are currently visiting Russia, and half a million Russian Jews are eligible for immigration to Israel.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the Foreign Ministry and the National Security Council were set to hold meetings Saturday evening on the ramifications for Israel and the Middle East of the ongoing crisis in Russia.

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