Russian President Vladimir Putin has strongly criticized the organizers of the short-lived mutiny that took place over the weekend, accusing them of betraying their country and the fighters under their command.
Betrayal of Country and Comrades
In his first public remarks since the conclusion of the armed uprising led by warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin, Putin urged the paramilitary group known as Wagner to either sign contracts with Russia’s defense ministry, return home, or leave the country for Belarus.
During a passionate five-minute speech on Monday, the Russian president expressed his anger and insisted that Wagner’s revolt was doomed to fail from the beginning. He directly addressed the rank-and-file members of Wagner, stating that the organizers of the mutiny had betrayed both the country and their fellow fighters. Putin emphasized that the majority of the group’s fighters were patriotic Russians who had been manipulated by their leaders.
Wagner Denies Coup Attempt
The leader of the Wagner militia, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has denied any intention of overthrowing the Russian government. In an 11-minute voice recording posted on Telegram on Monday, Prigozhin reiterated his criticism of the country’s defense establishment. He stated that his goal was to protest against the recent decision to disband Wagner and to expose the weaknesses in Russia’s domestic defenses.
Prigozhin clarified that their objective was not to topple the lawfully elected regime, which he had repeatedly emphasized. Instead, their aim was to safeguard the existence of the paramilitary group and hold accountable those responsible for the mistakes made during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He asserted that if the regular army had received the same level of training and morale as Wagner, the war in Ukraine, which began on February 24 of the previous year, could have been resolved within a day.
According to Prigozhin, Wagner demonstrated the level of organization that the Russian army should have possessed. He claimed that his forces covered a total distance of 780km, stopping only 200km short of Moscow. Prigozhin referred to this as a “masterclass” in how events should have unfolded on February 24, 2022.
It is worth noting that Prigozhin had remained silent since announcing that his convoy would turn back instead of proceeding to Moscow. He explained that their decision was based on two crucial factors: the avoidance of Russian casualties and the focus on peaceful protest rather than a government overthrow.
International Reactions and the Future
Prigozhin’s revolt on Saturday has been widely regarded as the most significant challenge to Putin’s rule since he assumed office 23 years ago. US President Joe Biden stated that the events were part of an internal struggle within the Russian system and that the United States had no involvement in them.
The EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, referred to Prigozhin as “the monster acting against his creator” and interpreted the weekend’s chaos as an indication of cracks in Putin’s military power.
However, UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace downplayed the impact on Putin’s authority, stating that the destabilization should not be exaggerated and that it did not derail the Kremlin.
The legal case against Prigozhin is still ongoing, despite initial reports from the Kremlin suggesting it would be terminated. Prigozhin has accused Valery Gerasimov, the army chief of staff, and Sergei Shoigu, the defense minister, of corruption and poor planning, claiming that they were responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers. This ongoing feud intensified in June after laws were passed requiring all irregular forces, including Wagner, to pledge allegiance to the defense ministry.
Wagner’s Plans Thwarted
Prigozhin claimed that Wagner was prepared to follow orders and was in the process of packing up their military equipment last week. Their plan was to travel in a convoy to Rostov-on-Don on June 30 and hand over everything to the army.
However, on Friday, Prigozhin alleged that Wagner’s base camps were subjected to airstrikes by the Russian military, resulting in the deaths of over two dozen of his troops. The defense ministry denied these claims on Friday evening.
Prigozhin asserted that not only did the militia manage to seize Rostov-on-Don, a major city in the south and a military headquarters, but they also successfully overcame military obstacles and took control of all the bases and airfields along their path.
According to Prigozhin, the local residents welcomed Wagner’s presence, with many showing their support through Russian and Wagner flags. He stated that numerous civilians continued to express their support, while others were disappointed that their advance was halted.