By Dave DeCamp / AntiWar.com
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday night delivered his first address to Russia after Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s short-lived uprising ended, vowing to Wagner fighters that he would uphold his side of the deal that was reached to end the mutiny.
Putin thanked Russian citizens and his security forces for opposing the mutiny. “A firm, unambiguous position in support of the constitutional order was taken by public organizations, religious denominations, leading political parties, in fact, the entire Russian society. Everyone was united and rallied by the main thing, responsibility for the fate of the Fatherland,” he said.
Putin did not mention Prigozhin by name, saying that the “organizers of the rebellion” had “betrayed their country.”
The Russian leader said that Ukraine and its Western backers wanted to see Russians kill each other and for the country to fall into civil war. “They wanted Russian soldiers to kill each other, so that military personnel and civilians would die, so that in the end Russia would lose, and our society would split, choke in bloody civil strife,” he said. “They rubbed their hands, dreaming of taking revenge for their failures at the front and during the so-called counteroffensive, but they miscalculated.”
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Discussing the Wagner members, Putin said that the “overwhelming majority of the fighters and commanders” of the mercenary force are Russian patriots. “Therefore, from the very beginning of the events, on my direct instructions, steps were taken to avoid a lot of bloodshed,” he said.
Putin thanked Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for mediating negotiations to end the crisis that led to a deal. Putin vowed to uphold the agreement by offering Wagner members the options of signing a contract with the Russian Defense Ministry, going home to their families, or traveling to Belarus. “The promise I made will be fulfilled,” he said.
The exact details of the Lukashenko-brokered agreement aren’t clear. The Kremlin initially said that Wagner fighters who didn’t take part in the mutiny could sign contracts with the Defense Ministry, but Putin’s comments suggested all members of the mercenary force have the option.
The Kremlin has said that Prigozhin will go to Belarus under the agreement. Prigozhin released an 11-minute audio recording on his Telegram channel on Monday, but his whereabouts are unclear.
In the recording, Prigozhin defended his actions, claiming that he was not trying to overthrow the government. He said his motive was to “prevent the destruction” of Wagner, saying the Private Military Company (PMC) would “cease to exist” by July 1 due to the Russian Defense Ministry’s demand to have all volunteer fighters sign contracts.
He said a Russian missile strike that killed 30 Wagner fighters sparked their march into Russia. But Prigozhin’s claim that the Russian military targeted his fighters has not been confirmed.
According to RT, multiple reports have said that Prigozhin’s fighters shot down a Russian helicopter and airplane during the mutiny, killing 20 Russian airmen. But the figures have not been confirmed as the Russian Defense Ministry hasn’t published an official death toll.
Putin addressed the fact that there were Russian casualties, saying that the “courage and self-sacrifice of the fallen heroic pilots kept Russia safe from tragic destructive consequences.”
Prigozhin acknowledged that his fighters fired on Russian aircraft. “We regret that we had to strike at aviation, but they hurled bombs (at us) and launched missile strikes,” he said.
After launching the insurrection on Friday, the Wagner fighters captured a military base in the city of Rostov-on-Don and were headed toward Moscow on Saturday before turning around after Prigozhin agreed to back down.
“Our decision to turn around was based on two important factors. The first factor is that we did not want to shed Russian blood. The second factor is that we were registering our protest and not seeking to overthrow the government of the country,” Prigozhin said. “At this time, Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko extended his hand and offered to find solutions for the further work of the Wagner PMC within a legal jurisdiction.”
Dave DeCamp is the news editor of Antiwar.com, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.