Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered mercenary troops who participated in the short-lived weekend rebellion to either swear allegiance to their country or leave for Belarus, while declaring that any mutiny attempt would have failed.
In evening remarks from the Kremlin, his first since a short address to the nation on Saturday, Putin presented part of the short-term resolution for the stunning turn of weekend events that upended the front in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On Friday, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner Group’s mercenary fighters, declared war against Russia’s military leadership and turned his troops toward Moscow. The advance was halted on Saturday after a peace deal brokered by Belarus’ president, who has closely allied his country with Russia.
Putin’s anger-laden speech comes as national security leaders and experts reassess the future of Russia’s war of aggression and Putin’s power, given that Wagner forces made up a significant and successful portion of the country’s military forces.
The attempted mutiny, which a Russian military leader at one point called a “coup,” presented the biggest threat of destabilization that Putin has faced since the beginning of the war. But it is too early to tell whether the events spell doom for the larger leadership structure that Putin has pieced together for more than two decades, as experts predict different outcomes on whether his power will crumble or build further.
“The armed mutiny would have been suppressed nonetheless,” Putin said, arguing that the internal strife was splitting a country that faced grave external threat.
But the Wagner Group’s quick mobilization over the weekend pokes a hole in Putin’s words of strength that any mutiny attempt would show no results. On Friday, Prigozhin, who has tussled with Russian leaders on multiple fronts throughout the country’s invasion of Ukraine, ordered thousands of his mercenary troops to march toward capturing Moscow. They quickly secured several strategic bases south of Moscow, including the city of Rostov-on-Don, but stopped because of the deal that Belarus brokered.
Throughout his Monday remarks, Putin underscored the strength of the Russian military and the country’s patriotic people, painting the Wagner Group’s conflict as a betrayal. In a show of unity after his solo remarks, Russian media showed the president alongside prominent military leaders analyzing the situation.
He attributed the cause of the rebellion to Prigozhin and said the Wagner mercenaries could sign a contract with the Russian military, return to their families or go to Belarus.
“Wagner Group soldiers are also patriots, loyal to the state, they have proven this in combat,” Putin said. “They were used blindly, forced to turn on their comrades with whom they fought shoulder to shoulder.”
Putin also paid tribute to Russian air force pilots who he confirmed had been killed in the insurrection. Wagner forces previously claimed to have shot down several aircraft in its bid to secure territory.
In a Telegram message earlier on Monday, Prigozhin insisted that his actions over the weekend were not an effort to oust Putin as Russia’s leader.
“Our decision to turn back was driven by two factors,” Prigozhin said. “One, that we did not want Russian blood to flow. The second factor was that we went to demonstrate our protest, and not to overthrow the government of the country.”
Prigozhin said on Monday the deal would help the Wagner Group continue its operations, which reach not only into Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine, but also to several African countries. His precise whereabouts remained unknown as of Monday afternoon.
The Biden administration has repeatedly stated that the U.S. had nothing to do with the Russian crisis, labeling it as an internal conflict.
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