Moscow tells residents ‘stay at home’ as Wagner rebels edge closer to Russian city

Monday set to be ‘non working day’ in the city to ‘minimise risk’

William Mata
Saturday 24 June 2023 20:16 BST
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A highway into Moscow was blocked by police
A highway into Moscow was blocked by police (AP)

The mayor of Moscow warned residents not to travel around the city, hours before the mutinous Wagner group leader dramatically pulled his troops from advancing on the city.

Sergei Sobyanin also said that Monday would be a non-working day for most and that the measures were needed to “minimise risks”.

He added that the situation was "difficult” and that a “counter-terrorist operation regime has been declared in Moscow”.

The order came hours before Yevgeny Prigozhin’s shock de-escalation of the crisis that saw him turn his private army back to their bases in a bid to avoid “blood being spilled.

In an audio message confirming the astonishing U-turn on Saturday evening, Mr Prigozhin said: “They wanted to disband the Wagner military company. We embarked on a march of justice on June 23. In 24 hours we got to within 200 km of Moscow. In this time we did not spill a single drop of our fighters’ blood.

“Now the moment has come when blood could be spilled. Understanding responsibility [for the chance] that Russian blood will be spilled on one side, we are turning our columns around and going back to field camps as planned.”.

Up to that point, men were reportedly receiving a mixed reaction from Russians as they pushed on through the country to launch an assault on the capital after the leader of the mercenary group spoke out against the war in Ukraine.

Protections were put in place around Moscow with the Wagner group reportedly just four hours from its boundaries before the assault was called off.

If they had succeeded in their mission, the group’s soldiers looked set to pose the biggest threat to the rule of Vladimir Putin so far.

Bracing themselves for Wagner’s descent into the capital, Russian troops blocked off a motorway into the city while all mass outdoor events have been cancelled until July 1. Posters encouraging residents to join Wagner are being taken down.

Armed vehicles have also been filmed passing the Kremlin while it has been reported that the presidential plane has flown from Moscow to St Petersburg. Although the Kremlin denied Mr Putin had fled, saying he continued to work in the city.

Servicemen walk past the GUM, State Department store, in the centre of Moscow
Servicemen walk past the GUM, State Department store, in the centre of Moscow (AFP via Getty Images)

Moscow residents have shared their fears of an impending potential conflict.

“It's frightening, of course,” Muscovite Nikolai told the Mail Online. “You sit at home thinking about what might happen. It's disturbing both for you and your loved ones.”

Another resident, Sergei, added: “I think everything will turn out fine, but if they're preparing to bring in [anti-terror measures] then it means there's a reason for that.”

A military column of Wagner private mercenary group drives along M-4 highway
A military column of Wagner private mercenary group drives along M-4 highway (REUTERS)

Outside Moscow, Russian media showed small groups of police manning machine gun positions on the southern outskirts.

A source close to the leadership in the Russian-held part of Ukraine's Donetsk province said the convoy nearing Moscow had about 5,000 fighters, with a similar number in Rostov. Overall, Wagner has fewer than 25,000 men at its disposal, said the source.

The source said Wagner's plan for Moscow was to take up positions in a densely built-up area.

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