On July 2, Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president and prime minister who is now deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, praised the Russian authorities and people for resisting the mutiny by Wagner mercenaries and demonstrating loyalty to President Vladimir Putin. In an op-ed published by the official government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Medvedev claimed:
“The authorities in Russia have convincingly proved their strength and stability, and the people of the country have demonstrated their readiness to rally around Supreme Commander Vladimir Putin to defend the Motherland.”
That is false.
Russian border guards, and local and regional authorities, offered little to no resistance to Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin’s troops, even after Putin called their march treason and ordered that it be stopped. The mercenaries rapidly took control of Rostov-on-Don, Russia’s largest southern city, captured military installations in a second city and advanced 800 km in the direction of Moscow. Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin reportedly left the capital during the crisis, and it remains unknown where Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was during that time.
Here is a brief chronology:
At 9:25 p.m. Moscow time, Prigozhin announced on Telegram that he was launching a "march for justice." He said the goal was to force Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, to resign.
Early that morning, Wagner forces entered Russia’s Rostov region from Ukraine’s partially Russian-occupied Luhansk region, meeting no resistance from Russia’s border guards, which are part of the Federal Security Service (FSB).
About the same time, a dozen planes carrying special forces flew from Moscow to Rostov-on-Don. The city's law enforcement agencies were ordered to take the headquarters of Russia’s Southern Military District, located in the city, under special protection.
Simultaneously, Russia’s TASS state-owned news agency reported that the Kremlin was treating the Wagner march as a rebellion and taking measures to halt it. The agency quoted Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov as saying:
"The Ministry of Defense, the Russian Guard, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB report around the clock to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the measures that are being taken after the instructions given by the head of state in connection with an attempted armed rebellion."
At 5:23 a.m., local news sources in Rostov-on-Don reported that the city administration and the regional law enforcement and security agency headquarters had been "cordoned off by unknown people in military camouflage."
By 7:30 a.m., Wagner mercenaries and Prigozhin entered the Southern Military District headquarters and began negotiations with deputy Russian Defense Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov. By that time, all military facilities in Rostov-on-Don were reportedly controlled by Wagner.
At 9:56 a.m., the Wagner-friendly telegram channel GreyZone published photos of unarmed people in uniform at the Bugaevka border crossing between the partly Russia-occupied Ukrainian Lugansk region and Russia’s Voronezh region. It commented:
"180 Russian soldiers and employees of law enforcement agencies agreed not to interfere with the action of Russian volunteers from the Wagner Group and laid down their arms."
Around 9:56 a.m., Wagner forces began to march toward Moscow from the Rostov and Voronezh regions. Tanks, armored vehicles, anti-aircraft guns and civilian trucks were used to transport thousands of rebellious mercenaries. The column was reportedly periodically attacked by Russian military helicopters, some of which were shot down by Wagner's air defenses.
By 9:57 a.m., Wagner forces occupied military facilities in Voronezh, a city with a population of more than a million. “Everything is like in Rostov,” a source close to the central office of the FSB told the BBC, adding that the FSB did not “have a specific plan to suppress the Wagner rebellion yet.”
Wagner forces proceeded to the Lipetsk region, where the authorities were deliberately digging holes on the highway with the help of excavators, as well as blocking the roads with trucks and buses to prevent the column from advancing toward Russia’s capital.
In Moscow, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin ordered a counterterrorism operation regime in the city, including a curfew, limiting all transportation and putting the security forces on high alert. South of Moscow along the Oka River, the military established defensive lines and barricaded bridges.
At 10:06 a.m., the Kremlin released a Putin video address in which he called Prigozhin's "mutiny" treason and betrayal.
At 2:16 p.m. Putin's plane reportedly took off from Moscow in the direction of one of the presidential residences in the Tver region. Airplanes carrying Mishustin, his deputy Denis Manturov, and Arkady Rotenberg, a billionaire close to Putin, also departed from Moscow.
According to Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, the Wagner group abandoned its plans to enter Moscow after he brokered safety guarantees for all its members with Putin and offered Prigozhin a safe haven in Belarus.