wagner group tank russia
Members of the Wagner Group military company load their tank onto a truck on a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Saturday, June 24, 2023, prior to leaving an area at the headquarters of the Southern Military District. Image Credit: AP

Rostov-on-Don: Residents of a Russian city at the heart of a brief rebellion against army top brass expressed relief on Sunday but also voiced some questions about what exactly happened.

Fighters from the Wagner mercenary group with silver armbands and carrying assault rifles had deployed a day earlier across Rostov-on-Don in tanks and armoured cars.

They also said they had taken control of the military headquarters in the southern city - a major hub for Russia’s Ukraine campaign - and were marching on Moscow.

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The Wagner group stood down later on Saturday after striking a deal with the Kremlin that will allow its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin go into exile in Kremlin-allied Belarus and not face mutiny charges.

Rina Abramian, a 28-year-old doctor, said she felt “relieved” about the outcome.

“When something routine in your city changes and you don’t really understand what’s going on, you feel very anxious and unsafe. So I felt relieved.”

Tank track markings could still be seen on the road in the city centre on Sunday morning and areas where armoured vehicles had been parked were cordoned off, while buses were back on their normal routes.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group military company, looks out from a military vehicle on a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Saturday, June 24, 2023, leaving an area of the headquarters of the Southern Military District. Image Credit: AP

A large blue banner seen hanging in a city park read: “Brothers, let’s not allow bloodshed, there are no enemies here, we can only win together”.

‘I understand them’

Residents who had heeded a request by local government to remain in their homes on Saturday were enjoying the sunshine.

Tatyana, a 76-year-old teacher sitting on a bench, said she was “very upset” when she first heard about the rebellion.

“I did not go out because they said that it was better not to go out. I followed the news all day and was really worried so I’m glad everything turned out well.”

Dmitry Filyanin, a 35-year-old psychologist, said he felt scared when it happened and relief when he heard about the deal struck between Wagner and the Kremlin after mediation by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

But he added: “There is still a lack of understanding. Why was this done? Who instigated all this?

“There is still confusion but it has somehow become calmer,” he said.

China expresses support for Russia after aborted mutiny

China supports Russia in maintaining its national stability, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Sunday, a day after an aborted mutiny by the Wagner group of heavily armed mercenaries.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko held talks in Beijing on “international” issues on Sunday following the most serious challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

“The Chinese side expressed support for the efforts of the leadership of the Russian Federation to stabilise the situation in the country in connection with the events of June 24 and confirmed its interest in strengthening the cohesion and further prosperity of Russia,” the Russian foreign ministry said.

China’s foreign ministry initially said only that Rudenko had exchanged views with China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Sino-Russian relations as well as “international and regional issues of common concern”.

It later said China supports Russia in maintaining its national stability and that the recent escalation in tensions in Russia was Russia’s “internal affairs”.

It was unclear when Rudenko arrived in Beijing, or whether his visit to China, a key ally of Russia, was in response to the apparent rebellion led by mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.

The mutiny was aborted on Saturday in a deal that spared Prigozhin and his mercenaries from facing criminal charges in return for Prigozhin pulling his fighters back to base and moving to Belarus.