Members of the Wagner Group prepare to depart from the Southern Military District’s headquarters and return to their base on June 24, 2023 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.
Feodor Larin | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Chaos in Russia works to Kyiv’s advantage, Ukraine officials said on Saturday, but it remains to be seen whether President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his army can capitalize on the disorder caused this weekend as mercenaries marched towards Moscow.
Late on Saturday, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a founder of the Wagner army, said he was halting his “march for justice” on Moscow after a deal that spared him and his mercenaries from facing criminal charges. The deal also exiled Prigozhin to Belarus.
“Today the world saw that the masters of Russia do not control anything. Nothing at all. Just complete chaos,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address, urging Ukraine’s allies to use the moment and send more weapons to Kyiv.
The Prigozhin unrest, the biggest internal challenge to President Vladimir Putin as Russia’s paramount leader for 23 years, has spurred global security concerns and a frenzy of calls between Washington and its allies to coordinate actions.
“Any chaos behind the enemy lines works in our interests,” State-run Ukrinform news agency quoted Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba as saying on Saturday.
Putin called Prigozhin’s actions a “blow to Russia,” but there were no immediate signs his rule was threatened. The defense ministry, under the helm of Putin’s loyal ally Sergei Shoigu, remained silent throughout the weekend’s events.
Kuleba said it was too early to speak of consequences for Ukraine, but later in the day he held a call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss the events and Kyiv’s counteroffensive efforts.
The U.S. State Department said in a statement afterwards that Washington will stay “in close cooperation” with Kyiv as the situation develops.
Ukraine’s military reported on Saturday an offensive near villages ringing Bakhmut, which was taken by Wagner forces in May after months of fighting. Kyiv also claimed the liberation of Krasnohorivka village in Donetsk, but gains were incremental.
The counteroffensive has been in general “slower than desired,” Zelenskiy said recently.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said on Saturday there was no immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from the frontline to Moscow.
“They … all remain in their places. They continue their resistance,” Ukrainian state media quoted Danilov as saying.