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Photos: 24 hours that took Russia to the brink of civil war

A mercenary rebellion posed an unprecedented challenge to President Vladimir Putin's rule.
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An armed uprising by the Wagner mercenary group saw rebel fighters march toward Russia's capital, posing an unprecedented challenge to President Vladimir Putin's 23-year rule

Led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the mercenaries seized control of a southern city that serves as one of Russia’s main military headquarters for the war in Ukraine and threatened a direct confrontation with the Kremlin before turning back.

Here are some of the images that capture the dramatic weekend.

Members of Wagner group sit atop of a tank in a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia
Wagner fighters rolled into Rostov-on-Don early Saturday, seizing control of the key southern city as they embarked on their march to Moscow.Stringer / AFP via Getty Images
President Vladimir Putin on June 24, 2023 said an armed mutiny by Wagner mercenaries was a "stab in the back" and that the group's chief Yevgeny Prigozhin had betrayed Russia, as he vowed to punish the dissidents.
On the balcony of Rostov's circus building, the mercenaries surveyed the city they used as a launchpad for their revolt inside Russia. AFP Contributor#AFP / AFP - Getty Images

In the chaos of the armed revolt, some fighters were pictured taking time to grab a coffee or sit down at a restaurant.

They were not so welcome everywhere, as Russian authorities who had once backed Wagner and Prigozhin came out against their rebellion.

Wagner fighters deployed in Rostov-on-Don
Wagner mercenaries were seen taking a break at a burger restaurant near the headquarters of the Southern Military District on Saturday. Reuters via Redux
Wagner Russia Poster
A man removes a Wagner recruitment poster on the outskirts of St. Petersburg on Saturday. The city is Prigozhin's home and the base for the mercenary group.AP

As the rebels swept north, “anti-terrorist” regimes and emergency security measures were imposed in Moscow and elsewhere.

Checkpoints were set up on key roads, while public events were canceled and central areas closed in many cities.

Russia Mutiny Attempt Security Measures Moscow Regions
Trucks blocked the M-2 highway outside Moscow on Saturday after a counter-terrorist measures were introduced. Vitaliy Belousov / Sputnik via AP
Moscow amid tensions between the Kremlin and Wagner Group
Moscow's Red Square was closed to the public on Saturday.Sefa Karacan / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Putin addressed the Russian people on Saturday, decrying the uprising as 'treason' and vowing to crush the rebellion.

But such a direct threat from a former ally exposed major cracks in Russia's leadership.

President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation, the Kremlin said on June 24, 2023, as Russia faced a rebellion by the Wagner mercenary group that has vowed to topple Moscow's military leadership.
Putin delivered a speech to the nation Saturday, his sole public comment on the crisis. Gavriil Grigorov / AFP - Getty Images
Troops deployed in Moscow the previous day to protect the capital from Wagner mercenaries have withdrawn from the capital, and people swarmed the streets and flocked to cafes. Traffic returned to normal and roadblocks and checkpoints were removed, but Red Square remained closed to visitors.
Outside the Kremlin on Sunday, beneath a statue of Soviet World War II Marshal Georgy Zhukov, normal life resumed as local residents waved flags in support of Putin.Dmitri Lovetsky / AP

Prigozhin's decision to turn back from Moscow and abandon the rebellion left many across the world puzzled.

It was unclear what might come next for the mercenary leader and the man he so openly defied, but it will not have gone unnoticed in the Kremlin that the rebels departed to cheers in Rostov.

Rebel mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin who sent his fighters to topple the military leaders in Moscow will leave for Belarus and a criminal case against him will be dropped as part of a deal to avoid "bloodshed," the Kremlin said on June 24.
One man was seen waving a Russian flag next to a Wagner armored vehicle emblazoned with the word “Rostov” in white paint down one side. AFP - Getty Images
 Rebel mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin who sent his fighters to topple the military leaders in Moscow will leave for Belarus and a criminal case against him will be dropped as part of a deal to avoid "bloodshed," the Kremlin said on June 24.
Wagner fighters and Rostov locals appeared in good spirits after their leader announced they would return to base camps.Roman Romokhov / AFP - Getty Images
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Prigozhin's troops who joined him in the uprising will not face prosecution and those who did not will be offered contracts by the Defense Ministry.
Prigozhin's future remains in doubt, but his star has never been higher than the weekend in which he challenged the Kremlin.AP