Mutiny mercenary boss says he never intended to overthrow Putin

The boss of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group says he never intended to overthrow the government, while Russian President Vladimir Putin has thanked Wagner fighters who stood down.

Wagner Group soldiers after seizing Russia's southern military command HQ in Rostov-on-Don. Photo: EPA/ARKADY BUDNITSKY

Wagner Group soldiers after seizing Russia's southern military command HQ in Rostov-on-Don. Photo: EPA/ARKADY BUDNITSKY

Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin has given few clues about his own fate, including his whereabouts, or the deal under which he halted a move toward Moscow.

Putin made a televised address on Monday, his first public comments since Saturday when he said the rebellion put Russia’s very existence under threat and that those behind it would be punished.

He thanked the mercenary commanders and soldiers who avoided bloodshed and said he would honour his promise to allow Wagner forces to relocate to Belarus if they wanted, sign a contract with Russia’s Defence Ministry or return to their families.

He made no mention of Prigozhin. Also on Monday Putin met with the heads of Russian security services, including Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, IFX reported, citing a Kremlin spokesman.

One of Prigozhin’s principal demands had been that Shoigu be sacked, along with Russia’s top general, who by Monday evening had yet to appear in public since the mutiny.

Last seen on Saturday night smiling and high-fiving bystanders from the back of an SUV as he withdrew from a city occupied by his men, Prigozhin said his fighters had halted their campaign in order to avert bloodshed.

“We went as a demonstration of protest, not to overthrow the government of the country,” Prigozhin said in an 11-minute audio message.

He said his goal was to prevent his Wagner militia’s destruction, and to force accountability on commanders who had botched Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine. He said his fighters did not engage in ground combat in Russia, and regretted having to shoot down Russian aircraft that fired on them.

“We halted at the moment when the first assault unit deployed its artillery (near Moscow), conducted reconnaissance and realised that a lot of blood would be spilled.”

He made no direct reference to his own whereabouts, nor provided further details of the mysterious agreement that had brought a halt to his mutiny.

On Saturday Prigozhin had said he was leaving for Belarus under a deal brokered by its president, Alexander Lukashenko. In Monday’s remarks he said Lukashenko had offered to let Wagner operate under a legal framework, but did not elaborate.

The White House said it could not confirm whether the Wagner chief was in Belarus.

InDaily in your inbox. The best local news every workday at lunch time.
By signing up, you agree to our User Agreement andPrivacy Policy & Cookie Statement. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Prigozhin shocked the world by leading Saturday’s armed revolt, only to abruptly call it off as his fighters approached the capital having shot down several aircraft but meeting no resistance on the ground during a dash of nearly 800km.

Russia’s three main news agencies reported on Monday that a criminal case against Prigozhin had not been closed, an apparent reversal of an offer of immunity publicised as part of the deal that persuaded him to stand down.

US President Joe Biden called the mutiny “part of a struggle within the Russian system”. He discussed it in a conference call with key allies who agreed it was vital not to let Putin blame it on the West or NATO, he said.

“We made it clear that we were not involved. We had nothing to do with it,” Biden said.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said it was “a new thing to see President Putin’s leadership directly challenged. It is a new thing to see Yevgeny Prigozhin directly questioning the rationale for this war and calling out that the war has been conducted essentially based on a lie.”

Russia’s ally China, where a senior Russian diplomat visited on Sunday, said it supported Moscow in maintaining national stability.

Ukraine and its Western allies said the turmoil revealed cracks in Putin’s Russia.

“The political system is showing fragilities, and the military power is cracking,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in Luxembourg as he arrived for a meeting with ministers from across the 27-member bloc.


Local News Matters
Copyright © 2024 InDaily.
All rights reserved.