(LONDON) — A chaotic armed rebellion that threatened the longstanding leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin began Friday and appeared to have been quelled by Saturday evening.
The uprising, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, chief of the paramilitary Wagner Group, began in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. Forces loyal to Prigozhin marched toward Moscow, before turning back Saturday night.
Here’s how the news unfolded. All times are Moscow Standard Time:
Friday, June 23
Prigozhin threatens rebellion
Prigozhin appeared to threaten an armed rebellion against Russia’s military leadership. He accused Russian officials of deliberately shelling his forces on earlier in the day.
“There are 25,000 of us and we are coming to sort things out … Those who want to join us, it’s time to finish with this mess,” Prigozhin said.
Saturday, June 24
Putin is briefed on ‘armed rebellion’
Putin was briefed on an “attempted armed rebellion” overnight, according to Russia’s state-run media.
A late-night statement from Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov 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.” The statement did not mention Prigozhin by name.
Wagner group claims control over Rostov military facilities, airport
Prigozhin said at about 7:30 a.m. on Saturday that his forces had taken control of the Southern Military District and all military facilities in Rostov-on-Don, a key Russian city near the southern border with Ukraine.
“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 threatened he would go to Moscow, the capital, saying, “We are moving forward and will go until the end.”
Wagner Group marches toward Moscow
Wagner Group forces were roaming the streets of Rostov-on-Don, gathering outside the Southern Military District headquarters, when Prigozhin made his announcement.
Forces loyal to Prigozhin began traveling north “almost certainly aiming to get to Moscow,” the U.K. Ministry of Defense said on Twitter about two hours later.
Prigozhin’s rebellion amounted to the “most significant challenge to the Russian state in recent times,” the ministry said.
“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.
Putin addresses nation on TV, calling the acts ‘treason’
Putin in a televised address that aired at about 10 a.m. said actions taken by Prigozhin, who was a longtime ally, 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.
“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.”
The powerful head of Chechnya, the semi-independent Russian region, Ramzan Kadyrov, said in a statement that he would support Putin.
He said his forces were already moving to “zones of tension.”
Ukraine says there’s ‘so much chaos’ in Russia
An advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said there was a “deafening” silence from Russia’s elites.
“The next 48 hours will define the new status of Russia,” Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter at about 11 a.m. Moscow time. “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.”
Zelenskyy said later that Russia appeared to be suffering “full-scale weakness.”
“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.
Wagner forces continue march to Moscow
A column of Wagner forces drove through the Voronezh region, about 300 miles south of Moscow, in the early afternoon, a local governor said.
Russia’s armed forces were conducting “operational combat operations” there as part of “counter terrorism operation,” the official said.
The column later passed through the Lipetsk region, farther north, Russian state media reported.
Prigozhin orders halt on march to Moscow
Prigozhin said he ordered his mercenaries to halt their march on Moscow and return to their field camps, saying he wanted to avoid shedding Russian blood.
The reasons the rebellion ended was a mystery, given that Prigozhin appeared to have been in a dominant position, a senior U.S. official told ABC News.
As part of a deal struck with Putin, Prigozhin would relocate to Belarus and would not be prosecuted, the Kremlin said.
ABC News’ Tanya Stukalova, Patrick Reevell, Tomek Rolski, Nadine El-Bawab, KJ Edelman, Shannon K. Crawford, Luis Martinez, Rashid Haddou and Martha Raddatz contributed to this story.
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