June 26, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine, Wagner rebellion news

By Kathleen Magramo, Christian Edwards, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Maureen Chowdhury and Amir Vera, CNN

Updated 1:16 AM ET, Tue June 27, 2023
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5:21 a.m. ET, June 26, 2023

Prigozhin remains under investigation for inciting armed rebellion, says source at Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

MembeRs of the Wagner Group military company sit atop of a tank on a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on June 24.
MembeRs of the Wagner Group military company sit atop of a tank on a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on June 24. AP

The investigation into the criminal case involving Yevgeny Prigozhin and his alleged involvement in organizing an armed mutiny is still active, Russian state news agency TASS said Monday, citing a source close to the Prosecutor General's Office.

"The criminal case against Prigozhin did not stop. The investigation continues," the source said about the Wagner founder, according to TASS.

On Saturday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists a deal had been reached with Prigozhin and the charges against him for calling for “an armed rebellion” would be dropped, without providing a time frame.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko also claimed Saturday that the criminal case against Prigozhin would be dropped. With Prigozhin’s Wagner forces just hours away from reaching Moscow, Lukashenko said he had brokered a deal with Prigozhin, allowing him to go to Belarus and not face charges.

However, neither Prigozhin nor his press service have confirmed a deal. Prigozhin has not been seen in public since his departure from Rostov-on-Don Saturday night.

5:09 a.m. ET, June 26, 2023

Attempted insurrection demonstrates Putin made “big strategic mistake,” says NATO chief

From CNN's Radina Gigova in London

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 16.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 16. Virginia Mayo/AP

The events that unfolded in Russia over the weekend demonstrate that President Vladimir Putin made a “big strategic mistake” by launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday during a visit to Lithuania’s capital Vilnius.

"The events over the weekend are an internal Russian matter, and yet another demonstration of the big strategic mistake that President [Vladimir] Putin made with his illegal annexation of Crimea and the war against Ukraine," he said.

"As Russia continues its assault, it is even more important to continue our support to Ukraine," Stoltenberg said. 

"Ukrainians have launched a counteroffensive to retake occupied land. The more land they are able to retake, the stronger their hand will be at the negotiating table to achieve a just and lasting peace."

Stoltenberg added that “once the war ends, we must put arrangements in place for Ukraine's security so that history does not repeat itself.”

Stoltenberg said allies are monitoring the situation in Belarus.

"We condemn Russia's announcement about deploying nuclear weapons. This is reckless and irresponsible. We don't see an indication that Russia is preparing to use nuclear weapons, but NATO remains vigilant," he said. 

"If Russia thinks it can intimidate us from supporting Ukraine, it will fail. We stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes," he added.

Some background: Belarus is playing an increasingly prominent role during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with President Alexander Lukashenko providing support to his Russian counterpart.

After weeks of speculation, Putin confirmed earlier this month that he has tactical weapons on standby in Belarus — causing alarm among many in the West.

Belarus may also have come to Russia's aid on Saturday during an armed insurrection, apparently brokering a deal with Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin. Lukashenko claimed "the criminal case will be dropped" against Prigozhin and that he "will go to Belarus."

4:49 a.m. ET, June 26, 2023

Wagner insurrection shows military power in Russia is “cracking,” says EU’s foreign policy chief

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy in London

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell speaks to the media prior to the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg, on June 26.
European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell speaks to the media prior to the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg, on June 26. Julien Warnand/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The armed rebellion attempted by the Wagner Group at the weekend shows military power in Russia is “cracking,” according to European Union foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell.

Speaking to journalists on his way into a Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy said the bloc is “closely following” developments in Russia.

He said recent events show Russia’s military power “is cracking,” adding that the instability is also “affecting [Russia’s] political system.”

The foreign affairs chief warned that it is “not a good thing” when a “nuclear power” such as Russia encounters “political instability,” calling the nuclear threat “something that has to be taken into account.”

Key context: Russian President Vladimir Putin faced the gravest threat to his authority in decades at the weekend when Wagner forces marched toward Moscow. Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin later turned his troops around and agreed to leave Russia for Belarus, the Kremlin said, in a deal apparently brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Belarusian officials said they cannot confirm if Prigozhin — whose whereabouts are currently unknown — has arrived in the country or what his status will be.

4:36 a.m. ET, June 26, 2023

Serbian president praises Putin after attempted insurrection

From CNN's Josh Pennington, Mia Alberti and Alex Stambaugh

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic speaks to the press as he arrives for the EU-Western Balkans leaders' meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on June 23, 2022.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic speaks to the press as he arrives for the EU-Western Balkans leaders' meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on June 23, 2022. Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin's "strong stance" in bringing an end to the brief insurrection led by Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.

While acknowledging that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko contributed, the Serbian president said in an interview on Pink television, a private Serbian network, that Putin was the one "who got it done" and described the Russian president's actions as "sharp and decisive."

Vucic also criticized the Wagner group's actions as "a stab in the back" to their own country and said a mistake had been made in Russia giving the group "enormous power."

"They said we have corrupt people in such and such places, which is largely true. But is that a reason to stab your country in the back, at its most difficult moment? Of course not, but they did it anyway," the Serbian president said Sunday, in reference to the Wagner group and opponents of Putin. 

"They thought they could get away with it. They believed that Putin would not interfere, and [Putin] personally with his statement and his strong stance, stopped it," Vucic said.

"Putin now has a very difficult task, and that's to raise the motivation of the army, and the confidence of the huge number of disillusioned Wagner soldiers. And none of that will be easy," Vucic added.

Key context: A major crisis shook the foundations of the Russian state Saturday, as forces loyal to Wagner mercenary boss Prigozhin marched toward Moscow. Then, Prigozhin abruptly called off their advance.

According to the Belarusian presidential press service, the decision followed an unexpected intervention by Lukashenko. The supposed deal struck with Prigozhin would see the Wagner boss leave for Belarus; a criminal case against the mercenary boss would be dropped; and Wagner fighters would be folded into formal military structures by signing contracts with the Russian ministry of defense.

Prigozhin — whereabouts currently unknown — has not commented on the supposed agreement.

4:15 a.m. ET, June 26, 2023

"People don't want Prigozhin in Belarus," says adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition leader

Head of the Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin leaves Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on June 24.
Head of the Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin leaves Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on June 24. Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has agreed to leave Russia for Belarus, the Kremlin said Saturday, in a deal apparently brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko that ended a short-lived insurrection.

But he won't be welcomed by the Belarusian people, according to Franak Viacorka, senior adviser to exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

"He doesn’t see [Belarus] as an independent nation, so I think the Belarusian army and Belarusian society will not accept him," Viacorka told CNN.

Belarusians want peace, trade and economic prosperity, while Prigozhin only "wants war, war, war — all the time only war, " Viacorka said. "So, I don’t think it will be a comfortable haven for him at all, and I don’t think he will stay for a long time in Belarus. I hope so, and we should do all that’s possible to get rid of him as soon as possible."

Prigozhin's current whereabouts are unknown and he is yet to comment on the supposed agreement to send him to Belarus, one of few Russian allies in Moscow's war on Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Saturday that Lukashenko had known Prigozhin personally for about 20 years. "And it was his personal proposal, which was agreed with President Putin. We are grateful to the President of Belarus for these efforts,” Peskov said.

3:47 a.m. ET, June 26, 2023

1 killed, pregnant woman among 7 injured in Kherson shelling, Ukrainian military says

From CNN's Maria Kostenko

Oleksandr Prokudin poses for a picture during an interview in Kherson, Ukraine on February 22.
Oleksandr Prokudin poses for a picture during an interview in Kherson, Ukraine on February 22. Rod Nickel/Reuters

One person was killed and seven others including a pregnant woman were injured after Kherson was hit by heavy shelling Monday, a Ukrainian military official said.

Oleksandr Prokudin, head of the Kherson region military administration, said on Telegram that residential districts of the southern city were among areas hit by 17 shells.

Northeast of Kherson, strikes also hit the villages of Antonivka and Burhunka, he added.

3:09 a.m. ET, June 26, 2023

Ukraine says it shot down 13 Russian missiles and drones overnight

From CNN's Maria Kostenko and Alex Stambaugh

The Ukrainian Air Force said Monday it intercepted 13 air targets overnight, including two Kalibr cruise missiles, seven Shahed attack drones and four unmanned aerial vehicles.

No one was injured in the attacks, which damaged windows in two apartment buildings, said Natalia Humeniuk, spokesperson for Ukraine's Southern Command.

The air defense efforts were hampered by tough weather conditions, including an "extremely strong storm at sea and thunderstorms throughout the night," she said.

3:08 a.m. ET, June 26, 2023

Moscow ends security restrictions, mayor says

From CNN's Clare Sebastian

People stand near the closed Red Square in Moscow, Russia on June 25.
People stand near the closed Red Square in Moscow, Russia on June 25. Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

All security restrictions imposed in Moscow following Wagner's insurrection have ended, the capital's mayor said Monday.

"We are lifting all restrictions connected to the introduction of the regime of a counter-terrorism operation," Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on Telegram.  

A CNN team observed Red Square blocked off on Sunday, a day after Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin called off his short-lived mutiny. Metal partitions were seen blocking access to the city center and a few security officers were present.

As events unfolded over the weekend, authorities declared Monday a non-work day, with the "exception of authorities and enterprises of a continuous cycle, the military-industrial complex, and city services," Sobyanin said earlier. 

On Monday, the mayor thanked Muscovites for their “calm and understanding," adding that high school graduations will be held on July 1 after many events were cancelled Saturday. 

2:16 a.m. ET, June 26, 2023

Analysis: Western allies must reexamine balancing act to save Ukraine after Putin's humiliation

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin speaks in this screengrab from a video released on June 24.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin speaks in this screengrab from a video released on June 24. Concord/Reuters

The world just got a hint of a tantalizing but possibly even more dangerous future without Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Western stakes in the Ukraine war rose significantly as a result.

A mutinous weekend that saw mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin flagrantly mock the Kremlin before aborting his march on Moscow evoked Russia’s blood-soaked history of revolutions and coups. Meanwhile, efforts by the White House and its foreign allies to find out exactly what was happening underlined the volatile nature of a war that could rewrite the map of Europe and modern history. Ultimately, a civil war that seemed about to burst out was averted — at least for now.

The Kremlin strongman seemed to blink at a military confrontation with Prigozhin’s Wagner Group fighters — in an act that might preserve his grip on power. But Prigozhin’s defiance — and the retreat by Putin, who accused him of treason but then agreed to a deal to let him apparently escape to exile in Belarus hours later — punched the deepest holes in the Russian president’s authority in a generation in power. There’s now no doubt that the war Putin unleashed to wipe Ukraine off the map poses an existential threat to his political survival. The rest of the world must now deal with the implications.

“This is not a 24-hour blip. It’s like Prigozhin is the person who looked behind the screen at the Wizard of Oz and saw the great and terrible Oz was just this little frightened man,” former US ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “Putin has been diminished for all time by this affair.”

Schisms in Moscow and between the government and Prigozhin’s Wagner Group — the only Russian fighting force that has enjoyed much recent battlefield success — might also now conjure an opening for Ukraine, which wants breakthroughs against Moscow’s already demoralized and poorly led troops in its new counteroffensive. This would be good news for the West, which has bankrolled and armed the country’s fight for its life. And there’s no doubt that NATO leaders would love to see Putin gone since there’s no sign he will end the war by pulling his troops out of Ukraine.

Read Collinson's full analysis here.