Putin Met With Wagner Group Days After Revolt, Offered Employment Options: Kremlin

Putin Met With Wagner Group Days After Revolt, Offered Employment Options: Kremlin
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group military company, records his video addresses in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on June 24, 2023. (Prigozhin Press Service via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has met with Wagner mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin and his commanders to discuss the recently aborted uprising against the Kremlin, a Russian spokesman has confirmed.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on July 10 that the face-to-face meeting took place in the Kremlin on June 29 and lasted roughly three hours. The meeting took place five days after the aborted revolt, which posed the most serious challenge to Mr. Putin since he came to power on the last day of 1999.

“It is true that the president did have this meeting. He invited 35 people to it—all the commanders of the units and the management of the [Wagner private military] company,” Mr. Peskov said in an audio-only recording on July 10. The meeting was first reported by French newspaper Liberation.

“The president gave his assessment of the company in the frontline battles,” he added. “He also gave his assessment of the events of June 24. The president listened to the explanations given by the commanders and offered them options for further employment and further military service.”

Mr. Peskov concluded: “The commanders provided their account of what happened. They stressed the fact that they are loyal supporters and soldiers of the head of state and the commander-in-chief. They said that they were ready to carry on fighting for their motherland.”

The Kremlin’s announcement reveals that Mr. Prigozhin returned to Russia at least once after the exiled leader and long-time Putin associate arrived in Belarus on June 27. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had helped broker a deal under which Mr. Prigozhin halted his soldiers’ push toward Moscow and agreed to leave Russia as an exile.

In a statement on his Telegram channel on June 24, Mr. Prigozhin confirmed that he had ordered his mercenaries to halt their march on Moscow and retreat to their field camps in Ukraine in order to avoid shedding Russian blood.

The brief Wagner rebellion, in which rogue paramilitaries led by Mr. Prigozhin captured the city of Rostov-on-Don and a military headquarters building before advancing on a 680-mile run toward Moscow, was launched on June 23 and lasted about 24 hours.

Mr. Prigozhin said the mutiny was not aimed at overthrowing Mr. Putin, but at “bringing to justice” the army and defense chiefs for what he called their blunders and unprofessional actions in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Monday’s announcement came as Russia’s Ministry of Defense published a video obtained by The Associated Press featuring Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of Russia’s armed forces. It was the first time since Wagner’s failed mutiny that the military chief had been seen publicly, indicating he had kept his job.

NTD Photo
Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) escorted by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (R) and General Staff Valery Gerasimov walk after attending an extended meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry Board at the National Defense Control Center in Moscow, on Dec. 21, 2021. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Mr. Gerasimov was one of the targets of Mr. Prigozhin’s rebellion. He is one of Moscow’s top military figures running the invasion of Ukraine.

‘Treason and Betrayal’

It is unclear what Mr. Prigozhin’s ultimate fate will be, though Mr. Peskov told reporters on June 24 that those who took part in the armed rebellion won’t face retribution, in recognition of their previous service to Russia.

In a televised address from the Kremlin on June 24, Mr. Putin said Russia’s very existence was under threat and accused the Wagner Group of “treason” and “betrayal” of their own people.

“We won’t let it [civil war] repeat,” Mr. Putin said at the time, likening the rebellion to the turmoil which engulfed Russia in the run-up to the 1917 Russian Revolution.

“We will protect our people and our statehood from any threats including treason from the inside,” he added. “What we are facing now is treason. Unreasonable ambitions and personal interests lead to treachery, state treason, and betrayal of own people [sic] and the common cause which Wagner fighters and commanders fought for along [sic] and died for alongside with other [sic] our units and brigades.”

More Details

The Wagner Group, officially known as PMC Wagner or Wagner Private Military Company, is a Russian paramilitary organization that was first identified in 2014, when it backed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

While the exact details of the group’s accomplishments are often murky owing to the secretive nature of their operations, they have been known to take part in conflicts and provide military support in countries such as Syria and, most recently, Ukraine.

Amid Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, Wagner forces have provided the Kremlin with key support, doing much of the heaviest fighting in the Donbas region and taking significant casualties in the fight for Bakhmut.

However, in the course of Wagner’s engagement in Ukraine, Mr. Prigozhin had become increasingly critical of Russia’s military leadership.

Battlefield setbacks in Ukraine, including significant Wagner casualties in bloody shootouts in the fight for Bakhmut, led Mr. Prigozhin to level a series of accusations against the military brass, including that they weren’t supplying Wagner with enough ammunition.

A culminating point was a June 23 accusation that Mr. Prigozhin made in a post on his Telegram channel against Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who the Wagner chief accused of “destroying” his fighters in an alleged Russian military airstrike and called for an armed mutiny.

In his criticism, the Wagner Group’s leader didn’t target Mr. Putin but focused his attacks on top Russian military leaders. He accused Mr. Shoigu of personally planning an operation to destroy Wagner fighters.

Epoch Times reporter Tom Ozimek and Reuters contributed to this report.