A column of troops from the Wagner mercenary group was seen on the road to Moscow again today – just 19 days after their leader Prigozhin lead an armed mutiny in the country against Vladimir Putin.
Pictures taken today (July 13) show military vehicles heading north along the M4 highway – the same route troops took during the abortive coup on June 24.
However, there doesn’t seem to be as much cause for alarm this time, as the number plates on the vehicles are Belarusian, according to an expert.
According to Russian military correspondent Alexander Kots, this seems to indicate the forces’ final destination is likely to be military encampments in Belarus rather than Moscow.
“There are buses with Belarusian numbers in the convoy, which may indirectly indicate the destination,” he posted.
The Wagner coup last month was called off after Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko brokered a deal on behalf of Putin.
This deal brough the armed mutiny to a halt, which threatened a bloodbath in or near the Russian capital.
During the mutiny, Wagner chief Prigozhin made himself comfortable in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, while he sent his troops north towards Moscow. Reports from the weekend suggested they got as far as Lipetsk before turning around – just a six-hour drive from Moscow.
Since the coup, military camps have been set up in Belarus ready for the Wagner troops. Reports suggested that Prigozhin had also been ‘exiled’ to the country following the rebellion – but new information makes it more likely he has remained in St Petersburg since the incident, only having visited Belarus for hours at a time.
He is believed to have been given political immunity and allowed to remain in Russia by Putin, even though he was ringleader of the revolt.
On Wednesday (July 12), the Russian defence ministry also announced it had taken possession of a huge quantity of arms and ammunition from Wagner.
These included T-90, T-80, T-72B3 tanks, Grad, Uragan systems, Pantsir anti-aircraft guns, Gvozdika, Acacia, Hyacinth, Tulip self-propelled guns, howitzers and anti-tank guns, mortars, multi-purpose armoured tractors, armoured personnel carriers, vehicles, as well as more than 2,500 tons of various ammunition. Earlier Prigozhin complained he was deprived of ammunition by the defence ministry.
The June 24 revolt was seen as aimed at toppling defence minister Sergei Shoigu and his military chief General Valery Gerasimov. Both remain in post.
However, a top US official has suggested that Prigozhin is likely now dead or stuck in a Russian prison cell after the coup.
Retired General Robert Abrams has dismissed a reported Kremlin meeting held five days after the 24-hour mutiny by Wagner forces attended by Prigozhin and Putin. Mr Abrams believes the face-to-face was likely “staged” and the Wagner CEO has already been silenced in some form or another.