The Russian authorities announced the closure of a criminal investigation into the armed uprising organized by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of a group of mercenaries. No charges were filed against Prigozhin or any of the other individuals involved, as stated by the Federal Security Service (FSB).
According to their investigation, the individuals implicated in the rebellion had halted their actions aimed at committing the crime, leading to the decision to abandon the case.
The disclosure marked the most recent development in a sequence of astonishing occurrences in the past few days, intensifying the most serious challenge to President Vladimir Putin's authority amidst the ongoing 16-month-long conflict in Ukraine.
During the weekend, the Kremlin made a commitment not to pursue legal action against Prigozhin and his combatants, despite Putin previously denouncing them as traitors, as Prigozhin quelled the rebellion on Saturday.
The offense of orchestrating an armed rebellion carries a potential prison sentence of up to 20 years. The fact that Prigozhin evaded prosecution stands in stark contrast to the treatment by the Kremlin towards individuals involved in organizing anti-government demonstrations in Russia.
Numerous opposition figures in Russia have been handed lengthy sentences and are currently serving time in correctional facilities known for their severe and difficult conditions.
As of Tuesday, the location of Prigozhin remained unknown. The Kremlin has stated that he would be sent into exile in neighboring Belarus, but neither Prigozhin nor the Belarusian authorities have officially confirmed this information.
According to Belaruski Hajun, an independent military monitoring project in Belarus, a business jet believed to be utilized by Prigozhin reportedly landed near Minsk on Tuesday morning.
In a speech on Tuesday, Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Putin who facilitated an agreement with Prigozhin to quell the rebellion, did not immediately address the fate of Prigozhin.
Lukashenko, who has maintained a firm grip on power in Belarus for 29 years, employing oppressive measures against dissent and relying on Russian subsidies and political backing, depicted the uprising as the latest manifestation of a conflict between Prigozhin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Their longstanding personal animosity has occasionally escalated, and Prigozhin has claimed that the rebellion aimed to remove Shoigu from power rather than Putin.
As the mutiny carried out by the Wagner Group unfolded, Lukashenko portrayed it as a substantial threat and took measures to prepare Belarus' armed forces for combat, placing them on high alert.
Similar to Putin, he presented the conflict in Ukraine as an existential danger to Russia, stating, "If Russia collapses, we all will perish under the debris."
During a televised address on Monday evening, Putin once again condemned the instigators of the rebellion as traitors who served the interests of Ukraine's government and its allies. While he expressed criticism towards Prigozhin, Putin commended the efforts of Wagner Group commanders.
This praise was possibly aimed at retaining their loyalty in the ongoing Russian involvement in Ukraine, as Moscow requires skilled and efficient personnel in the face of an emerging Ukrainian counteroffensive, as stated by a think tank based in Washington.
The Institute for the Study of War also suggested that the divide between Putin and Prigozhin is likely irreparable, cautioning that providing Belarus as a supposed safe haven for the Wagner chief and his followers might be a potential trap.
The brief uprising orchestrated by Prigozhin over the weekend has caused significant turmoil within Russia's leadership.
In his speech, Putin aimed to present a sense of stability by condemning the "organizers" of the uprising without directly mentioning Prigozhin. He also commended the unity of the Russian people in the midst of the crisis and acknowledged the restraint shown by the Wagner fighters, preventing the situation from escalating into a full-blown conflict with extensive casualties.
In a speech to soldiers and law enforcement officers at the Kremlin on Tuesday, Putin reiterated his message, praising them for preventing "a civil war." He once again emphasized that the mutiny lacked support from both the army and the people, but he refrained from mentioning Prigozhin by name.
On Monday, Prigozhin defended his actions in a defiant audio statement. While taunting the Russian military once again, he stated that his intention was not to stage a coup against Putin.
To assert his authority, the Kremlin showcased Putin's meeting on Monday night with top security, law enforcement, and military officials, including Shoigu, whom Prigozhin had attempted to remove. Putin expressed gratitude to his team for their efforts over the weekend, suggesting his support for the embattled Shoigu. Earlier, footage was released showing Shoigu reviewing troops in Ukraine.
The fate of Prigozhin's mercenary force remained uncertain. During his speech, Putin provided three options for Prigozhin's fighters: either come under the command of Russia's Defense Ministry, leave military service, or relocate to Belarus.
Prigozhin mentioned on Monday, without providing further details, that the Belarusian leadership presented proposals that would allow Wagner to operate "within a legal jurisdiction." However, the exact nature of these proposals remains unclear.