EnergiesNet.com 06 27 2023
President Vladimir Putin said Russia averted “civil war” with a deal for Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin to end his armed rebellion, in a public display of support for his military leadership that the mercenary chief had sought to overthrow.
“You in fact prevented a civil war,” Putin told 2,500 troops assembled at a televised Kremlin ceremony Tuesday. “In a difficult situation you acted clearly and coherently.”
His praise of the military’s actions appeared at odds with the ease with which Prigozhin and his troops crossed 780 kilometers (485 miles) of Russia’s territory over 24 hours, blockading army units along the way without significant resistance.
Putin was later shown on television telling a group of soldiers that the state budget had fully financed Wagner’s operations. More than 276 billion rubles ($3.25 billion) went on salaries and insurance for Wagner forces in the year through May as well as on payments to its owner’s company for supplying food and catering for the army, he said, without mentioning Prigozhin by name.
“I hope that no one stole anything, or, let’s say, stole just a little in the course of this work,” Putin said. “But we will of course look into all this.”
The president spoke after a meeting late Monday with security chiefs that included Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, his close ally who’s been the main target of Prigozhin’s attacks over the handling of the war in Ukraine.
The Federal Security Service announced earlier Tuesday that it had closed a criminal investigation into Wagner over Saturday’s armed mutiny that spiraled into the biggest threat to Putin’s 24-year-rule. The Defense Ministry in Moscow said preparations have begun to transfer heavy weaponry from the mercenaries to units of the Russian army.
Putin had pledged to respect a deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for Prigozhin to end the uprising. That provided for the mercenary chief to go to Belarus and for criminal proceedings against him and his troops to be closed.
The rapid chain of events has left the US, Europe and China puzzling over the political fallout from a rebellion that shattered Putin’s invincible image as Russia’s leader. The crisis highlighted bitter divisions within Russia over the faltering war in Ukraine that’s the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II, as a Ukrainian counteroffensive continues to try to push Putin’s forces out of occupied territories.
A private jet used by Prigozhin landed in Belarus at the Machulishchi airbase from St. Petersburg early Tuesday, according to the Belarusian Hajun monitoring group, which cited air traffic data. It wasn’t immediately clear if Prigozhin was on board the aircraft and he hasn’t been seen since ending the revolt.
“It was very painful to see the events that happened in southern Russia,” Lukashenko said at a televised meeting Tuesday with military officers in the capital, Minsk.
Prigozhin has accused the Russian Defense Ministry of seeking to destroy Wagner with an order requiring his fighters sign up with the military by July 1. He said Monday that Lukashenko had offered to allow Wagner to continue operating in his country.
The Kremlin and state media continued to tout support for Putin from world leaders. Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke by phone, while Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in an interview with Germany’s Bild that the Russian leader won’t be weakened by the mutiny.
Wagner’s heavily-armed troops first took control of Russia’s southern city of Rostov-on-Don, and then rapidly moved toward Moscow virtually unopposed, reaching 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the capital before turning back.
In an 11-minute audio message on Telegram Monday, Prigozhin said the lightening progress of his fighters highlighted “serious problems with security on the whole territory of the country.”
The mercenary chief also pointedly noted the expressions of public support he said his fighters enjoyed as they marched through Russia’s heartland.
Lukashenko said there were “no heroes” in the story of the mutiny and the effort to resolve the crisis. “We let the situation get out of hand,” he said.
— With assistance by Sylvia Westall
bloomberg.com 06 27 2023