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Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the organizers of last week’s short-lived uprising, saying they had betrayed his country and the fighters under his command.
In his first public comments since the end of militant Yevgeny Prigozhin’s armed uprising on Saturday, Putin told Wagner paramilitary forces to sign a deal with Russia’s Defense Ministry, go home or leave the country for Belarus.
The Russian president’s furious five-minute speech on Monday insisted that Wagner’s coup was doomed to failure from the start. In his appeal to Wagner’s rank-and-file, Putin said the mutiny’s organizers had “betrayed the country and those with them”, adding that most of the group’s fighters were “patriots of Russia” who had been “used” by his command. . .
The head of the Wagner militia has denied trying to overthrow the Russian government. Reiterating his criticism of the country’s defense establishment, Prigozhin said in an 11-minute voice recording posted on Telegram on Monday that his goal was to protest the recent decision to disband Wagner and show the weakness of Russia’s domestic defenses.
“We did not have the goal of overthrowing the current regime, which is legitimately elected, as we have said many times,” said Prigozhin, who did not mention Putin by name.
Instead, he wanted to “prevent the destruction” of the paramilitary group and hold people “who, with their unprofessional actions, made a huge number of mistakes” during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He said that if the regular army had received the same training and morale as Wagner, the war in Ukraine, which began on February 24 last year, “would not have taken more than a day”.
“We showed the level of organization that the Russian army should have,” Prigozhin said, adding that his forces covered a total of 780km and stopped just 200km short of Moscow. “It was a masterclass in what February 24 2022 should be like.”
Even Prigozhin was not heard until his own message on Monday afternoon as he announced that his fleet would turn back rather than proceed to Moscow. “Our decision to step back came from two important factors,” he added. “The first was that we did not want to spill Russian blood. Second, we were marching to protest, not to overthrow the government.
Prigozhin’s coup on Saturday is widely seen as the most serious threat to Putin’s rule since he took office 23 years ago.
“This was part of the conflict within the Russian system,” US President Joe Biden said on Monday. “We had nothing to do with it.”
Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, described Prigozhin as “a monster working against his creator” and said the weekend chaos proved Putin’s “military power is cracking”.
But UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace played down the impact on Putin’s power, maintaining that “we shouldn’t give too much credit to the instability, that somehow this is a huge derailment of the Kremlin”.
Speaking to the Royal United Services Institute think-tank, Wallace asserted that the war in Ukraine was still being run by Prigozhin’s main haters in the Russian system, Defense Minister Valery Gerasimov, Army Chief of Staff and Sergei Shoigu.
State media reported on Monday that Prigozhin still faced prosecution, although the Kremlin said over the weekend that the legal case against Prigozhin “will be determined”.
Prigozhin has railed against Gerasimov and Shoigu for months, accusing them of killing thousands of Russian soldiers through corruption and poor planning.
The long-running feud came to a head in June after all the irregular forces – of which Wagner is the largest and most prominent – pledged allegiance while incorporating the Ministry of Defense into its fold.
Wagner was ready to move on orders, Prigozhin claimed, and had been packing his military equipment last week, handing everything over to the army with plans to move to Rostov-on-Don in a convoy on 30 June.
Then on Friday, he claimed, the Russian military carried out airstrikes on the Wagner base camp, killing more than two dozen of its soldiers. A similar account was denied by the Ministry of Defense on Friday evening.
Prigozhin said that the militia not only managed to seize Rostov-on-Don, a major southern city and military headquarters, but also managed to disarm military obstacles placed in its path and capture all bases and airfields in its path.
Residents, moreover, were happy to see Wagner Pass, Prigozhin claimed. “The citizens met us with Russian and Wagner flags. . . Many of them continue to write words of support, and others are disappointed that we have stopped.