In his first address to the nation following the apparent coup attempt from the Wagner mercenary group, Russian leader Vladimir Putin said that the organisers of the “treasonous” rebellion will be “brought to justice”.
Without mentioning Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin by name, Vladimir Putin said that those who organised the alleged attempt to oust Russia’s military top brass on Saturday will face “justice”, according to a translation of the remarks by NBC News.
Though he aknowledged that the mutiny represented a threat to Russian society, Putin claimed that the “armed rebellion would have been put down anyway.”
The statements from the Russian dictator seemingly contradict the deal struck between Prigozhin and Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko, the terms of which were undisclosed but seemed to indicate that Prigozhin’s decision to halt the march on Moscow came in exchange for the charges against him being dropped.
However, earlier in the day on Monday, Russian state media claimed that the Wagner warlord was still under investigation for “armed rebellion”. Yet, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that Prigozhin would be allowed to relocate to Belarus.
The current location of the Wagner chief is currently unclear, although some unconfirmed reports claimed that he has arrived in Belarus, where he supposedly agreed to relocate in exile.
In his address, Putin seemed to offer an olive branch to the Wagner forces that joined Prigozhin in his ill-fated insurrection, claiming that they were misled by the Wagner leadership, whom he claimed “kept them in the dark and tried using them against their brothers in arms, with whom they fought shoulder to shoulder for the sake of the country and its future.”
According to state media RT, Putin said in his speech on Monday that those mercenaries who took part in the events on Saturday could either sign a contract with Russia’s Defense Ministry of Defence, return home, or relocate to Belarus.
“The overwhelming majority of the fighters and commanders of the Wagner group are also Russian patriots, devoted to their people and country. They proved this with their courage on the battlefield,” Putin told the nation.
The Russian leader went on to express gratitude to Wagner forces for having “stopped at the last line” so that “fratricidal bloodshed” did not take place. He said that such an outcome was desired by the “enemies” of Russia.
“They [the West and Ukraine] wanted Russian soldiers to kill each other so that soldiers and civilians would die, so that in the end Russia would lose, and our society would break apart and choke on bloody civil strife,” Putin said. “They rubbed their hands, dreaming of getting revenge for their failures at the front and during the so-called counteroffensive, but they miscalculated.”
The Russian president went on to praise the “courage and self-sacrifice of the heroic fallen pilots” — a reference to the unconfirmed number of Russian airmen who died during the fighting against the Wagner forces on Saturday. Although the Russian Defense Ministry has yet to announce the number of dead, it has been reported that up to 20 may have lost their lives and that multiple Russian aircraft were shot down.
The comments from the Russian leader — the first other than a pre-recorded interview on the state of the war in Ukraine — came hours after the first message from Prigozhin since he and his forces stood down on Saturday.
In an audio message published on a Wagner telegram channel, the mercenary chief claimed that although the operation on Saturday was a “masterclass” on how an invasion should be conducted — referencing last year’s invasion of Ukraine — he said that it was not his intention to overthrow Putin’s government in Moscow, but rather to hold Kremlin officials — presumably Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov — to account for their failures in the war in Ukraine.
He also said that the rebellion was intended to prevent the “destruction” of the Wagner group, referencing the demand that all Russian paramilitary organisations operating in Ukraine sign contracts with the Ministry of Defence — a move that would have threatened Prigozhin’s status as the head of the mercenary group.
In his speech, Putin did not mention Shoigu or Gerasimov, whom some believe may be at risk of losing their positions following the rebellion. Earlier in the day on Monday, Shoigu released a video from the frontline of the war, however, it was not confirmed if the video was recorded before the weekend.