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Israel bans troops from traveling to Russia, Belarus as tensions heat up

Members of Wagner group prepare to pull out from the headquarters of the Southern Military District to return to their base in Rostov-on-Don late on June 24, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

Israel has banned its military forces from traveling to Russia and Belarus, following an armed mutiny by the paramilitary Wagner Group against Moscow and in the midst of soaring tensions between Tel Aviv and Russia.

The Israeli military said the decision came into effect on Sunday and will continue until further notice.

It also warned Israeli settlers against traveling to Russia, calling on Israelis residing in Russia “not to approach areas of tension” and to return to Israel if their stay in that country is unnecessary.

On Friday, in an audio message posted on Telegram, Wagner’s chief Yevgeny Prigozhin accused the Russian top brass of launching strikes against his men and said that “the evil which the Russian military leadership carries must be stopped.”

He also claimed that he had taken control of the southern city Rostov-on-Don as part of an attempt to oust the military leadership.

Russian authorities accused the Wagner chief of calling for an armed mutiny and initially said they were charging Prigozhin with “organizing an armed rebellion” against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In an emergency televised address to the nation on Saturday, Putin said the “armed mutiny” was treason, pledging that anyone who had taken up arms against the Russian military would be punished.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also warned that Western countries are trying to exploit the mutiny for their “Russophobic goals.”

Later on Saturday, Prigozhin ordered his fighters to turn around from their march toward Moscow and vacate the city of Rostov-on-Don.

Prigozhin’s decision came after negotiations with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko aimed at de-escalating the situation.

The terms appeared to include an amnesty for Wagner forces who had taken part in the armed mutiny.

Russia also said a criminal case previously filed against Prigozhin had been dropped after he ordered his forces to stop fighting and retreat to their bases.

Tensions have also been simmering between Israel and Ukraine, with Kiev accusing the Tel Aviv regime of choosing a path of “close cooperation” with Russia and declining to arm Ukraine with weapons.

In a statement on Sunday, Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgeni Kornichuk said the Israeli regime is "hiding behind the demagogy of its neutrality" while expanding relations with Russia.

Meanwhile, the latest reports suggest that the Western countries either had a direct role in the mutiny against Putin or knew about the whole Wagner plot in advance.

According to a report published in the New York Times, US spy agencies “strongly suspected” that Prigozhin was planning to take military action against Russia, days before he ordered his troops to march on Moscow.

However, US officials decided to keep silent about Prigozhin’s plans. The pretext was that if they said anything, Putin could have accused them of orchestrating a coup, the report said.

Margarita Simonyan, the chief of Russia’s state broadcaster, was also cited as saying in Russian media on Saturday that there is “no doubt” that the mutiny was orchestrated by the secret services of the US, Britain, and the Israeli regime.

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