Putin says he let Wagner mutiny continue to avoid bloodshed

Most of Wagner Group are patriots and revolt ultimately reinforced national unity, Russian President says

Russian President Vladimir Putin (centre) meets the country's top security officials in Moscow. AFP
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Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a defiant televised address on Monday evening, saying he had deliberately let Saturday's mutiny by Wagner Group mercenaries go on as long as it did to avoid bloodshed.

He added that this had only reinforced national unity.

In his first statement on the situation since he spoke on Saturday promising to crush the mutiny, Mr Putin appeared to draw a line under an event that western leaders said exposed Russia's vulnerability.

Led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner fighters succeeded in taking control of the city of Rostov-on-Don – where the military command centre steering the Ukraine campaign is located – and sending an armed convoy to within 200km of Moscow.

“From the very beginning of the events, steps were taken on my direct instruction to avoid serious bloodshed,” Mr Putin said.

“Time was needed, among other things, to give those who had made a mistake a chance to come to their senses, to realise that their actions were firmly rejected by society, and that the adventure in which they had been involved had tragic and destructive consequences for Russia and for our state.”

He was speaking shortly after Mr Prigozhin released an 11-minute audio message, in which he defended his mutiny as a bid to save his mercenary outfit and expose the failures of Russia's military leadership, but not to challenge the Kremlin.

The Wagner boss said he led the march towards Moscow “as a demonstration of protest, not to overthrow the government of the country”.

“Our march showed many things we discussed earlier: the serious problems with security in the country,” he said.

“In Russian towns, civilians met us with Russian flags and the symbols of Wagner … they were all happy when we passed through.”

The rogue warlord's first audio message since calling off his troops' advance on the capital came as Russian officials attempted to present the public with a return to business as usual.

Moscow’s mayor announced an end to the “counterterrorism regime” imposed on the capital Saturday, when troops and armoured vehicles set up checkpoints on the outskirts and authorities tore up roads leading into the city.

In his speech, Mr Putin made no mention of Mr Prigozhin, who had demanded that Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu and chief of the General Staff Gen Valery Gerasimov come to Rostov to speak to him.

Mr Prigozhin had called for both of them to be dismissed.

Nor did Mr Putin mention any planned personnel changes at the Ministry of Defence, although at about 11pm Moscow, time he was shown on television addressing a meeting of heads of his security departments, including Mr Shoigu.

What caused the crisis between Moscow and the Wagner group? – video

What caused the crisis between Moscow and the Wagner group?

What caused the crisis between Moscow and the Wagner group?

Mr Prigozhin had said his men had been forced to shoot down helicopters that attacked them as they drove towards Moscow.

Mr Putin did allude to some bloodshed, blaming it on Wagner.

“The organisers of the mutiny, having betrayed their country, their people, also betrayed those whom they dragged into the crime,” he said.

“They lied to them, they pushed them to death, under fire, to shoot their own.”

Mr Putin thanked the Wagner fighters and commanders who had stood down from the mutiny to avoid what he called “fratricidal bloodshed” and said the vast majority of the group's members were patriots.

He added that those who had decided not to sign contracts with the Russian army under a Ministry of Defence order could either relocate to Belarus or simply return to their families.

The Russian President said all levels of society had taken “a firm, unambiguous position in support of the constitutional order”.

“Everyone was united and rallied by the main thing: responsibility for the fate of the Fatherland,” he said.

President Sheikh Mohamed spoke to Mr Putin by phone on Monday and “emphasised the importance of maintaining the stability of the Russian Federation and the safety and security of its people”, state news agency Wam reported.

The leaders discussed strategic relations between the countries and ways to develop them further, Wam said.

Russia says it is carrying out a “special military operation” in Ukraine to remove what it calls a potential threat against its own security from the western-leaning government in Kyiv.

Ukraine and the West have described the February 2022 invasion as an unprovoked land grab.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday praised his troops for advancing “in all sectors” in their counteroffensive, after spending the day with frontline soldiers in the east and south of the country.

“Today, in all sectors, our soldiers made advances. It is a happy day,” he said in his nightly video address, delivered from a train after visiting two frontline areas.

The President's office posted four videos of Mr Zelenskyy's journey, which he said covered “hundreds of kilometres”.

Updated: June 27, 2023, 11:07 AM