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Russia drops charges against Prigozhin, others who were part of mutiny

Over the weekend, the Kremlin pledged not to prosecute Prigozhin and his fighters after he stopped the revolt on Saturday, even though Putin had branded them as traitors

Yevgeny Prigozhin

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group military company (Photo: AP)

AP Moscow

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Russian authorities said Tuesday they have closed a criminal investigation into the armed rebellion led by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, with no charges against him or any of the other participants.
The Federal Security Service, or FSB, said its investigation found that those involved in the mutiny ceased activities directed at committing the crime, so the case would not be pursued.
The announcement was the latest twist in a series of stunning events in recent days that have brought the gravest threat so far to President Vladimir Putin's grip on power amid the 16-month-old war in Ukraine.
Over the weekend, the Kremlin pledged not to prosecute Prigozhin and his fighters after he stopped the revolt on Saturday, even though Putin had branded them as traitors.
The charge of mounting an armed mutiny carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison. Prigozhin escaping prosecution poses a stark contrast to how the Kremlin has treated those staging anti-government protests in Russia.
Many opposition figures in Russia have received long prison terms and are serving time in penal colonies notorious for harsh conditions.
The whereabouts of Prigozhin remained a mystery Tuesday. The Kremlin has said he would be exiled to neighbouring Belarus, but neither he nor the Belarusian authorities have confirmed that.
An independent Belarusian military monitoring project Belaruski Hajun said a business jet that Prigozhin reportedly uses landed near Minsk on Tuesday morning.
The media team for Prigozhin, the 62-year-old head of the Wagner private military contractor, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, a close Putin ally who brokered a deal with Prigozhin to stop the uprising, didn't immediately address Prigozhin's fate in a speech Tuesday.
Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron hand for 29 years, relentlessly stifling dissent and relying on Russian subsidies and political support, portrayed the uprising as the latest development in a clash between Prigozhin and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Their long-simmering personal feud has at times boiled over, and Prigozhin has said the revolt aimed to unseat Shoigu, not Putin.
Lukashenko framed the insurrection by Wagner as a significant threat, saying he placed Belarus' armed forces on a combat footing as the mutiny unfolded.
Like Putin, he couched the Ukraine war in terms of an existential threat to Russia, saying: If Russia collapses, we all will perish under the debris.
In a nationally televised address Monday night, Putin once again blasted organisers of the rebellion as traitors who played into the hands of Ukraine's government and its allies. Although he was critical of Prigozhin, Putin praised the work of Wagner commanders.
That was likely in an effort to retain them in the Russian effort in Ukraine, because Moscow needs trained and effective manpower as it faces the early stages of a Ukrainian counteroffensive, according to a Washington-based think tank.
The Institute for the Study of War also noted that the break between Putin and Prigozhin is likely beyond repair and that providing the Wagner chief and his loyalists with Belarus as an apparent safe haven could be a trap.
Prigozhin's short-lived insurrection over the weekend has rattled Russia's leadership.
Putin sought to project stability in his speech, criticising the uprising's organisers, without naming Prigozhin. He also praised Russian unity in the face of the crisis, as well as rank-and-file Wagner fighters for not letting the situation descend into major bloodshed.
Earlier Monday, Prigozhin defended his actions in a defiant audio statement. He again taunted the Russian military but said he hadn't been seeking to stage a coup against Putin.
In another show of projecting authority, the Kremlin on Monday night showed Putin meeting with top security, law enforcement and military officials, including Shoigu, whom Prigozhin had sought to remove.
Putin thanked his team for their work over the weekend, implying support for the embattled Shoigu. Earlier, the authorities released video of Shoigu reviewing troops in Ukraine.
It also wasn't clear whether he would be able to keep his mercenary force. In his speech, Putin offered Prigozhin's fighters to either come under Russia's Defence Ministry's command, leave service or go to Belarus.
Prigozhin said Monday, without elaborating, that the Belarusian leadership proposed solutions that would allow Wagner to operate in a legal jurisdiction, but it was unclear what that meant.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Jun 27 2023 | 4:10 PM IST

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