In a de-escalation of a significant threat to President Vladimir Putin’s hold on power, the leader of Russian mercenary fighters from the Wagner militia, which had advanced close to Moscow, announced on Saturday that they agreed to retreat to prevent further bloodshed.
Mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an audio message that the fighters would return to base because of the risk of blood being spilled.
The BBC reported that, before Prigozhin announced that the Wagner Group would pull back, Putin’s plane had taken off from Moscow early Saturday morning, sparking rumors that he had fled the country. Putin’s aircraft was spotted on a flight radar heading towards St. Petersburg area.
According to FlightRadar data retrieved by NEXTA, Putin’s presidential plane left at 14:16 Moscow time. It was not clear where the plane was headed, and it disappeared from tracking systems near Tver, a major city north of Moscow.
Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, however, denied Putin had fled the city, saying the Russian leader had been “working at the Kremlin,” according to The Independent.
Earlier in the day, Putin had ordered his military to act against Wagner fighters who had seized the southern Russian city of Rostov.
“All those who deliberately stepped on the path of betrayal, who prepared an armed insurrection, who took the path of blackmail and terrorist methods, will suffer inevitable punishment, will answer both to the law and to our people,” Putin said at the time.
On Friday, Prigozhin alleged that Russia’s military leadership had provided Putin with inaccurate information regarding the conflict in Ukraine and had mismanaged military resources and assets. Prigozhin also accused Russian armed forces of launching strikes against Wagner fighters.