Russia's Sergey Shoigu appears for first time since Wagner mutiny

Defence minister inspects Russian troops after Saturday's failed rebellion

Sergey Shoigu, centre, was briefed on Russian combat operations. AFP
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Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu surfaced in public on Monday for the first time since a mutiny by Wagner mercenaries that failed to unseat him from the military top brass.

Footage on state television showed Mr Shoigu aboard a helicopter and inspecting troops at a command post for Russian forces in Ukraine.

Mr Shoigu – who was the focus of mutiny leader Yevgeny Prigozhin's ire as he marched his private army more than halfway to Moscow – was briefed on missions being undertaken by Russian forces, the ministry said.

Although the timing of the visit was unclear, the footage seemed to indicate that Mr Shoigu remained in charge after a weekend of chaos and confusion in Russia.

Mr Prigozhin has accused Russia's military leadership of incompetence and failing to equip his fighters as they battled to conquer Bakhmut in Ukraine.

On Saturday, the feud came to a head as Mr Prigozhin's troops took control of a military headquarters in southern Rostov-on-Don and advanced towards Moscow, before abruptly calling off their mutiny under a deal brokered by Belarus.

Wagner mutiny in Russia – in pictures

The truce offered Mr Prigozhin the opportunity to withdraw to Belarus and for his troops to be granted immunity, but it appeared he had failed to persuade the Kremlin to remove Mr Shoigu.

Neither Russia's President Vladimir Putin nor Mr Prigozhin have commented in public since the ceasefire announced by Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko.

There has been no word either from top Russian general Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff, another target of Mr Prigozhin's anger over the conflict in Ukraine.

Ukraine's ambassador in Britain, Vadym Prystaiko, said on Monday that Mr Putin had been weakened by the events of recent days.

But speaking to Sky News, he said of Mr Prigozhin: “We’re not wishing him to win. All of them are enemies of ours."

Serhiy Nayev, commander of Ukraine's Joint Forces, responded to speculative reports that Wagner fighters could be moved to Belarus to attack Ukraine from the north.

“If this happens and the enemy tries to cross the state border, it will be nothing but suicide for them,” Mr Nayev said on the military's Telegram channel.

Moscow lifts security

On Monday, Moscow lifted an “anti-terrorist” security regime it had imposed over the weekend as it prepared for Wagner troops to reach the capital.

Mayor Sergey Sobyanin thanked citizens for their “calm and understanding” during the crisis.

Events were cancelled and travel restrictions were implemented along the road from Rostov to Moscow as Wagner forces advanced on Saturday. The Red Square, which is adjacent to the Kremlin, was blocked off by metal barriers.

'Fear led us to furthest point of Europe': Ukrainian woman tells story of displacement

'Fear led us to furthest point of Europe': Ukrainian woman tells story of displacement

The EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell said that the war was “cracking Russian power” after a weekend of cautious comments by western diplomats.

“The monster that Putin created with Wagner, the monster is biting him,” said Mr Borrell.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the full ramifications of the Wagner Group’s march on Moscow have yet to be felt.

“It's too soon to tell exactly where this is going to go,” he told CNN.

Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar meanwhile said troops had reclaimed 130 square kilometres of land from Russia since the start of its counter-offensive.

However, she said the situation in the south “has not undergone significant changes over the past week”. She said about 250 clashes had taken place along the eastern part of the front line.

Britain's Defence Ministry said in a regular intelligence update that Russia may lack the reserves of ground forces to reinforce its positions.

It said Ukraine had “gained impetus” around Bakhmut, the city fought over with Wagner troops in the months-long battle that exacerbated tensions between Mr Prigozhin and the Kremlin.

Updated: June 26, 2023, 10:27 AM