As one of the world’s most brutal mercenary forces marched toward Moscowsome members of the Russian elite trembled with fear faced with the possibility that the world’s largest nuclear power was on the verge of what, according to the president Vladimir Putincould have been a civil war.
With Putin facing the biggest public challenge of his 23 years as supreme leader, some private jets sped out of Moscowaccording to flight tracking data and a source familiar with the matter, the agency said Reuters.
One fear was that the Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenary groupif he entered Moscow, try to take over the economy, triggering another property deal in Russiathe world’s largest supplier of natural resources.
When Prigozhin’s men turned back a little over 200 kilometers from Moscow, a another fear: that Putin, furious at his humiliation, would tighten the screws even more and take revenge on those he did not consider loyal enough.
“Everybody shit on themselves“said a source familiar with the way of thinking of Russian business and political elites, which often overlap, according to the agency. Reuters. “Anyone who had something to lose was extremely tense,” she added.
Another high-ranking source in Moscow, who also requested anonymity, maintained that fear had triumphed in the tumultuous hours on Saturday and that many were quick to do so. plans to get their families out of Moscow.
The Wagner Group leader said it was not a coup attempt against Putin: it was just a “master class”
The source said that it was clear that Putin’s authority had been damaged, but that it was too early to draw general conclusions from events that, according to the source, did not seem to make sense.
“The speed and severity of whatever this was has completely shocked everyone, including in the Kremlin,” the source said.
In interviews with Reutersabout a dozen members of the Russian elite recounted their nervousness as the riot unfolded, the biggest internal turmoil in the Russian state since the coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, when the Soviet Union was collapsing.
The unease and reactions give an idea of how deep the fissures are within Putin’s Russia after 16 months of a war in Ukraine that does not look set to end anytime soon.
“Russia has dawned on a new reality,” a third source told Reuters when asked what had happened, adding that the full consequences of the failed mutiny may not have manifested yet.
The word that Putin repeated: “Smuta”
As the riot unfolded, Putin, who has dominated Russia since the last day of 1999, delivered an address to the nation at 10 a.m. Moscow time from the Kremlin on June 24, vowing to crush the mutiny and warned that Russia could slip into chaos.
The former KGB spy used the dreaded Russian word “smuta,” which means riot, turmoil or trouble and is associated in Russian minds with the so-called “Time of Troubles,” which preceded the rise of the Romanov dynasty in 1613.
Putin called the armed mutiny treasonous and compared it to the chaos that led to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and subsequent years of civil war.
The Wagner Group halted its advance to Moscow “to avoid spilling blood”
As Putin spoke, the ruble fell towards 100 to the US dollar. for the lucky ones who could find the currency to buy. The ruble was trading at 84 to the dollar on Thursday and is currently around 86.
The Russians began to withdraw significant amounts of rubles and search for currency in 15 regions across the country.
On average, demand for foreign currency and cash increased by around 30%, but in southern regions close to the riot and in large cities, demand shot up by 70-80%, according to a report by the deputy prime minister. first, Andrei Belousov.
Airfare prices from Moscow have also skyrocketed for trips to destinations such as Belgrade, Istanbul and Dubai.
The tickets for direct flights to Belgrade are sold out. One-way tickets to Belgrade via Sochi shot up to 63,700 rubles ($742). Those whose destination is Istanbul quadrupled their price.
According to flight tracking data, on June 24 planes associated with at least two leading business figures and a senior government official left Moscow. The agency Reuters he was unable to determine who flew in the planes.
Russian MP Dmitry Gusev wrote to the Russian air transport agency demanding that it publish the names of famous businessmen and politicians who flew out of Russia on June 24.
heads will roll
A few hours later, an agreement was reached so that Prigozhin and some of his fighters could travel to neighboring Belarus. It seemed that Russia had stepped into the abyss.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenkoused criminal jargon to say that on Saturday he had convinced Putin not to “finish off” Prigozhin, who flew to Belarus on Tuesday.
Prigozhin asserted that he had never intended to overthrow the Russian leadership, but had marched to save his group and settle scores with Putin’s top military commanders, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
The rapid advance of the Wagner Group
The leader of the Wagner Group, however, bragged about the speed of his men’s march towards Moscow, which they traveled 780 kilometers in a single daystating that it demonstrated the magnitude of the security problems in Russia.
Viktor Zolotov, a close Putin ally and head of the National Guard, said the mutineers were able to advance so quickly toward Moscow because forces loyal to the state had focused on bolstering the capital’s defenses.
Zolotov, who was head of the presidential escort from 2000 to 2013 and was sometimes seen carrying an automatic weapon to protect Putin on dangerous trips, said his men would have resisted to the death.
But within the elite, there is now a fear that Putin will try to reassert his position and remove those who, in his view, did not profess their allegiance ardently enough.
“Heads Will Roll”another senior source said. “They will look at who was silent, who did not speak in support of unity and the president,” she concluded.