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Russian President Vladimir Putin faced the most significant challenge to his rule of more than two decades after mercenary troops of his former ally Yevgeny Prigozhin launched a brief armed rebellion in southern Russia and came within 120 miles of the capital before withdrawing in a surprise deal brokered by Belarus, the Washington Post reported.

On Saturday, Prigozhin’s Wagner Group entered Rostov-on-Don and claimed control of key military installations in the area. Prigozhin said he would blockade Rostov – a heavily fortified region of southern Russia – and send forces to Moscow to topple Russia’s military leadership.

He had also urged Russians to join 25,000 Wagner troops in their “march of justice” against Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and other top officials.

But a day later, Prigozhin halted Wagner’s advance in a deal in which the Kremlin agreed not to prosecute Prigozhin and allow him to leave for Belarus. In return, the Wagner chief halted his troops’ march on Moscow and withdrew fighters from the southern military installations.

Prigozhin, however, denied that he was attempting a coup against Putin.

The rebellion underscores ongoing disputes between Prigozhin and Russia’s military over the invasion of Ukraine. For months, the oligarch had lambasted Russian military leaders for battlefield setbacks, which analysts had viewed as permissible as long as Prigozhin remained in the “patriotic camp” and did not directly criticize Putin.

But the tensions boiled over after Shoigu’s attempts to control the Wagner Group and Putin’s apparent support of his defense minister on the matter.

While Prigozhin likely aimed to topple Shoigu, it is believed that his Wagner forces lack the strength and numbers to engage in direct conflict with the Russian military. Even so, his troops faced little resistance on Saturday even from military checkpoints.

Political analysts said Saturday’s rebellion and Sunday’s concessions exposed the growing precariousness of Putin’s position in the wake of his invasion of Ukraine. They added that even though the Russian president managed to avert a major crisis, the event highlighted his growing isolation, and that they expect to see new threats to his rule.

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