Former President Donald Trump on Saturday warned against the possible ouster of Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that the successor to the Russian strongman could be ‘far worse.’
‘A big mess in Russia, but be careful what you wish for. Next in may be far worse!’ he said on Truth Social.
Trump spoke amid an ongoing situation in Russia in which the Wagner private Russian military force was marching to Moscow in what appeared to be a significant challenge to Putin’s leadership, 16 months into the war against Ukraine. The column of paramilitary fighters later announced that it would turn around to avoid bloodshed.
In Moscow, the government threw up private checkpoints, armored vehicles and other security measures ahead of the Wagner army, marking a stunning and potentially explosive sign of division within Russia over Putin’s leadership.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the commander of the group, had accused military leaders of botching the war in Ukraine and said he had 25,000 troops under his command. The force made its way 60 miles into Russia, claiming to have taken control of the city Rostov-on-Don, from which Russian military command has coordinated its attack on Ukraine.
Prigozhin targeted Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu specifically, accusing Russian government forces of attacking Wagner field camps in Ukraine with rockets, helicopter gunships and artillery, and has previously called for the minister’s ouster.
‘This is not a military coup, but a march of justice,’ Prigozhin said.
Putin, meanwhile, called the rebellion ‘treason’ and promised harsh consequences for those involved.
‘All those who prepared the rebellion will suffer inevitable punishment,’ Putin said. ‘The armed forces and other government agencies have received the necessary orders.’
However, Prigozhin later appeared to defuse the situation by announcing that the march had been halted, and that forces were retreating to the field camps in Ukraine as part of a deal brokered by Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko. It is not clear what the deal entails.
In audio posted to social media, Prigozhin said that while his troops were just 120 miles from Moscow, he chose to turn back to avoid ‘shedding Russian blood.’
A statement from the Belarusian government claimed, ‘At the moment, an absolutely profitable and acceptable option for solving the situation is on the table, with security guarantees for the Wagner PMC fighters.’
In the U.S., National Security Council spokesperson Adam Hodge on Friday night said, ‘We are monitoring the situation and will be consulting with allies and partners on these developments.’
Fox News’ Peter Aitkin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.