Russia-Ukraine live updates: ‘Mystery’ why Prigozhin stopped march, US official says

(MOSCOW) — Russian President Vladimir Putin was briefed Saturday on an “attempted armed rebellion,” the Kremlin said, after the leader of the mercenary Wagner Group claimed control of military facilities in Rostov-on-Don, a key Russian city near the Ukrainian border.

Forces loyal to Yevgeny Prigozhin, the mercenary leader, were traveling north toward Moscow in the “most significant challenge to the Russian state in recent times,” the U.K. Ministry of Defense said on Saturday.

Jun 25, 2:05 PM EDT
Exiled Russian oligarch supports Russian mercenary group’s rebellion

In the wake of Saturday’s short-lived attempted rebellion against the Kremlin by the Wagner private military company, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an exiled oligarch considered one of Putin’s best-known opponents, told ABC News he supports the mutiny and encourages Russians to back the leader of the mercenary group.

Once Russia’s richest man, Khodorkovsky, a Putin opposition activist, spent 10 years imprisoned after he challenged Putin, his case now considered a foundational moment for Putin’s regime.

When Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin and his fighters marched on Moscow Saturday before making a sudden about-face, Khodorkovsky was notable among Russia’s pro-democracy opposition in calling on people to support Prigozhin, arguing that allowing him to remove Putin would create an opportunity for the democrats.

Khodorkovsky told ABC News he believed Prigozhin’s actions were a real coup attempt and that it had “seriously undermined” Putin’s power. He predicted that similar opportunities to collapse the regime will be launched soon.

“The blow to Putin’s reputation, to the authorities’ reputation, was absolutely fantastical,” Khodorkovsky said. “Putin’s government today is, without a doubt, strongly undermined by what happened — his authority, his ability to control the security services is seriously undermined.”

Khodorkovsky said Prigozhin’s march on Moscow had undermined Putin’s popularity, showing neither ordinary Russians nor the security services were prepared to act to protect him.

“Along the entire route of Wagner’s columns, no one in any way tried to hinder him (Prigozhin). Even the security forces did not try to stop him,” Khodorkovsky said. “It showed that, in fact, inside the country, Putin has an absolute void.”

Khodorkovsky said he did not support Prigozhin himself — considering him a “war criminal” — but that the democratic opposition should have sought to help him overthrow Putin, and then taken power from him after.

Khodorkovsky criticized other parts of the anti-Kremlin opposition who attacked him for calling on people to assist Prigozhin, saying he believed the opposition had “slept through” the opportunity and suggesting it should have sought to stage a rebellion in Moscow at the same time.

“There will definitely now be more such opportunities because of Putin’s weakening. But the next time we need to simply be more ready,” said Khodorkovsky, who is living in exile in England. “If an uprising had started in Moscow to meet Prigozhin then a situation could have developed quite differently.

-ABC News’ Patrick Reevell

Jun 24, 6:53 PM EDT
US official says it’s a ‘mystery’ why Prigozhin stopped march to Moscow

A senior U.S. official says it is a mystery as to why Yevgeny Prigozhin stopped his march to Moscow given that he was seemingly in a dominant position.

The official said he was greeted as a hero in Rostov-on-Don. However, the senior official told ABC News that Prigozhin is in an “emotional state,” and perhaps did it because he thought this would destroy Russia, or because he glimpsed his own end. It is impossible to tell whether Prigozhin thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin will actually honor their deal which included allowing Wagner group soldiers to be folded into the Russian military.

The official said that Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko was very effective, telling Prigozhin and Putin that this was all a misunderstanding and that they are both patriots and aligned for the same goals.

Putin is said to be completely shocked by how fast Wagner Group moved through Russia. For now, he is just trying to secure his position. He does not want to be seen negotiating over his defense minister, but the official says the U.S. believes concessions were made over Sergei Shoigu’s future as well as others.

-ABC News’ Martha Raddatz

Jun 25, 3:56 AM EDT
Moscow highway restrictions remain, Russian media reports

Travel restrictions remained in place on Sunday on the major M-4 highway near Moscow, according to Russia’s state-run media.

“According to the previously issued regional decisions, traffic restrictions remain in force on the M-4 Don highway near the Moscow Region and the Tula Region,” the federal road agency said, according to TASS.

The security checkpoints had been put in place Saturday as a column of Wagner Group forces traveled toward Moscow. Roadblocks in southern Russia, including in Rostov-on-Don and the Krasnodar Region, were reportedly lifted.

“All previously imposed restrictions on highways have been lifted,” TASS reported, citing a branch of the Russian Interior Ministry.

-ABC News’ KJ Edelman

Jun 24, 10:20 PM EDT
‘Gang of 8’ briefed about Wagner Group movements

Senior congressional leaders were briefed about the ongoing situation in Russia, according to a congressional aide.

U.S. intelligence officials told the so-called “Gang of Eight” — the top Republicans and Democrats currently in congressional leadership– in recent days about potentially concerning movements of Wagner Group forces and equipment build-ups near Russia. However, it was unclear to U.S. intelligence what was going to happen and when.

-ABC News’ Trish Turner

Jun 24, 5:18 PM EDT
Blinken holds call with Turkish counterpart for ‘ongoing situation in Russia’

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke Saturday with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan to discuss the ongoing situation in Russia.

“Secretary Blinken reiterated that U.S. support for Ukraine will not change. The United States will stay in close coordination with Allies and partners as the situation develops,” spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

Blinken also spoke with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Saturday to discuss the situation in Russia, Miller said. Blinken reiterated that support by the U.S. for Ukraine will not change.

The U.S. will stay in close coordination with Ukraine as the situation develops.

-ABC News Shannon K. Crawford

Jun 24, 4:45 PM EDT
Wagner chief will not be prosecuted, Kremlin says

Yevgeny Prigozhin will go to Belarus to ease tensions and the fighters of PMC Wagner Group who took part in the so-called “campaign” against Moscow will not be prosecuted, the Kremlin said Saturday evening.

The rest will be able to sign a contract with the Ministry of Defense, the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“In the end, we managed to resolve this situation without further losses, without raising the level of tension,” Peskov said.

“An agreement was reached that PMC Wagner would return to their camps,” he added.

Jun 24, 2:55 PM EDT
Wagner Group chief orders mercenaries to halt march on Moscow

The Wagner Group’s chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said he has ordered his mercenaries to halt their march on Moscow and return to their field camps, saying he wants to avoid shedding Russian blood.

Prigozhin made the announcement in an audio message posted on his Telegram channel.

Russian state media has shown Wagner fighters packing up and reportedly leaving Rostov.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and thanked him for his efforts de-escalating the situation.

Jun 24, 1:12 PM EDT
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff cancels trip to Israel, Jordan due to situation in Russia

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has canceled his planned trip to Israel and Jordan due to the situation in Russia. The trip was to have begun Saturday.

Milley also spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart, Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi.

“They discussed the unprovoked and ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and exchanged perspectives and assessments. The Chairman reaffirmed unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to Joint Staff spokesperson Col. Dave Butler.

The Pentagon said Department of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is monitoring the ongoing situation in Russia and will continue to be briefed on any significant developments.

Jun 24, 12:47 PM EDT
Moscow suspends schools, events until July 1

Andrey Vorobyov, the governor of the Moscow region, has suspended mass events outdoors and at educational institutions until July 1.

Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin urged residents to refrain from traveling around the city. Monday was also declared a non-working day for the city. Sobyanin said that a counter-terrorism regime was declared in Moscow and that the situation was difficult.

Jun 24, 12:34 PM EDT
Biden speaks with leaders of France, Germany, UK about ‘situation in Russia’

President Joe Biden spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak about the developments in Russia.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were also briefed by their national security team on the developments in Russia and will continue to receive updates throughout the day, the White House said Saturday.

Jun 24, 10:11 AM EDT
Wagner troop column 300 miles south of Moscow, Russian media say
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The governor of the Lipetsk region, which is about 300 miles south of Moscow, said a column of Wagner troops has been spotted in the region, Russian state media reports.

Jun 24, 9:15 AM EDT
What is the Wagner Group?

The Wagner Group is a private military organization run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a longtime ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, with tens of thousands of fighters, according to U.S. officials.

Earlier this year, the U.S. labeled the group a “significant transnational criminal organization” and levied new sanctions, while human rights observers this week said they suspected Wagner fighters were linked to the mass killing of people in Mali last year.

Government reports, statements from U.S. officials and insights from experts, as well as other sources, shed light on the Wagner group’s history and goals, its alleged wrongdoings and its importance to Russia — in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world.

Jun 24, 7:24 AM EDT
NATO monitoring Russian situation, official says

A NATO representative said the alliance was watching what was happening in Russia on Saturday.

“We are monitoring the situation,” spokesperson Oana Lungescu said.

Jun 24, 6:31 AM EDT
‘Operational combat’ underway north of Rostov, official sa
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A governor of the Voronezh region, about 300 miles south of Moscow, says Russia’s armed forces are conducting “operational combat operations” there as part of “counter terrorism operation.”

Earlier the region’s government reported a column of Wagner Group fighters was moving through the region, an area between Rostov-on-Don and Moscow.

“In the bounds of the counterterrorist operation on the territory of the Voronezh region, the armed forces of the Russian Federation are conducting necessary operational combat operations,” the official said. “We will inform further about the development of the situation.”

Jun 24, 6:03 AM EDT
Russia in ‘so much chaos that no lie can hide it,’ Zelenskyy says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia appeared to be suffering “full-scale weakness” after the Wagner Group mercenaries said they’d taken hold of a key Russian city.

“Russia used propaganda to mask its weakness and the stupidity of its government. And now there is so much chaos that no lie can hide it,” he said on Twitter.

Jun 24, 5:47 AM EDT
Prigozhin responds to Putin, says Wagner not going to surrender

The Wagner Group’s Yevgeny Prigozhin responded to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s calling him a “traitor,” by saying he will not surrender or turn back.

“Putin was deeply mistaken about the betrayal. We are patriots of our homeland, we fought and are fighting,” Prighozin said in an audio message. “No one is going to turn around at the request of the president, the FSB or anyone else, because we do not want the country to live longer in corruption, deception and bureaucracy.”

Prigozhin accused Russia’s military of targeting a Wagner column with helicopters and jets.

Jun 24, 5:37 AM EDT
Chechen leader backs Putin, says forces moving into ‘zones of tension’

The powerful head of Chechnya, the semi-independent Russian region, Ramzan Kadyrov, said on Saturday he supported President Vladimir Putin.

Kadyrov saiud he fully backs Putin and called Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s actions “treacherous.”

Kadyrov has tens of thousands of heavily armed fighters. He said his forces are already moving to “zones of tension.”

It raises prospect of Chechen forces fighting with Wagner Group troops.

Kadyrov has previously been friendly with Prigozhin — his coming out in support of Putin is a boost for Putin, but also raises prospect of serious clashes in Russia.

Jun 24, 5:27 AM EDT
Next 48 hours ‘will define’ Russia, Zelenskyy advisor sa
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Russian leaders are “now choosing which side they are on,” an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Saturday.

“The next 48 hours will define the new status of Russia,” Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. “Either a full-fledged Civil War, or a negotiated Transit of Power, or a temporary respite before the next phase of the downfall of the Putin regime.”

He added, “A deafening ‘elite’ silence is in Russia so far…”

Jun 24, 3:52 AM EDT
Uprising ‘significant challenge’ to Russian state, UK says

Members of the mercenary Wagner Group have begun moving north “almost certainly aiming to get to Moscow,” in what amounts to the “most significant challenge to the Russian state in recent times,” the U.K. Ministry of Defense said on Saturday.

“Over the coming hours, the loyalty of Russia’s security forces, and especially the Russian National Guard, will be key to how the crisis plays out,” the ministry said on Twitter.

Jun 24, 3:25 AM EDT
Putin: Wagner Group moves are ‘stab in the back’

Russian President Vladimir Putin said moves taken by Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, a longtime ally, to bring his troops into a key Russian city amounted to a “stab in the back.”

Putin didn’t mention Prigozhin by name, but said that “necessary orders have been given” to defend Russia in a recorded address aired on Russian television on Saturday.

“Actions that divide our unity are in essence defeatism before one’s own people,” he said. “This is a stab in the back of our country and our people.”

Jun 24, 3:12 AM EDT
Kremlin briefs Putin on ‘attempted armed rebellion’

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been briefed by the country’s security agencies about what was referred to as an “attempted armed rebellion,” according to Russia’s state-run media.

The late-night statement from Putin’s spokesman suggested that the Kremlin considered Wagner Group’s move into Rostov-on-Don, a key Russian city close to the border with Ukraine, to be a “rebellion.”

Wagner’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin in an audio message on Friday claimed his forces would now punish Russia’s defense minister and chief of general staff, telling other units to stand down and not offer resistance.

“Special services, law enforcement agencies, namely the Ministry of Defense, the FSB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Rosgvardiya, in round-the-clock mode, constantly report to the president on the measures taken in the context of the implementation of the instructions previously given to him,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday.

Jun 24, 2:42 AM EDT
Wagner Group claims control over Rostov military facilities, airport

Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner Group, said on Saturday that the headquarters of the Southern Military District and all military facilities in Rostov-on-Don were under his control.

Prigozhin in a video demanded that Kremlin bring him Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov and Sergei Shoigu.

He also threatened in the video that he would go to Moscow.

“We will destroy anyone who stands in our way,” he said in one of a series of video and audio recordings posted on social media.

He added, “We are moving forward and will go until the end.”

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