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Wagner Group's Prigozhin releases 1st message since mutiny

Published June 26, 2023last updated June 26, 2023

In his first remarks since launching — and ending — an insurrection against Russian military leaders over the weekend, Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin said the aim was to avoid the destruction of the mercenary force.

An image of Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin speaks from the city of Rostov-on-Don on Saturday June 24, as his forces seized control from the Russian military
Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Wagner Group's weekend revolt has sparked uncertainties about Russian President Vladimir Putin's political futureImage: Press service of "Concord"/REUTERS

Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin released an audio message on Monday, his first statement since a failed revolt by his mercenary forces in Russia.

He said the goal was not to overthrow Russia's political leadership, but rather to protest Russian military leaders' ineffective conduct during its war in Ukraine.

What did Prigozhin say?

The Wagner Group leader posted an 11-minute-long audio message to Telegram, explaining why he and his forces mutinied against the Russian military and marched towards the Russian capital of Moscow.

"We started our march because of an injustice," Prigozhin said. He reiterated claims that the Russian military had fired on Wagner forces and that the mercenary group set off for Moscow in reaction to being attacked.

Prigozhin emphasized that the goal of the march was not to oust Russian President Vladimir Putin's government.

"We went to demonstrate our protest and not to overthrow power in the country," he added.

He did not provide details about his current whereabouts in the message. On Saturday, Russia said Prigozhin was headed to Belarus under an agreement brokered by the country's leader, Alexander Lukashenko, in exchange for ending the mutiny.

"Lukashenko held out his hand and offered to find solutions for the continuation of the work of the Wagner private military company in a legal jurisdiction," he said on Monday, without providing further details.

Wagner leader issues defiant audio statement

What is the situation in Russia?

Russian officials have urged for the public to rally behind President Putin in the aftermath of this weekend's aborted mutiny.

Russia's appointed Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, who leads Putin's Cabinet, acknowledged on Monday that Russia faced "a challenge to its stability."

"We need to act together, as one team, and maintain the unity of all forces, rallying around the president," he told a televised government meeting.

On Monday, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu appeared in a video published by his ministry for the first time since the Wagner mutiny.

According to Russian state news agency TASS, Russia's intelligence services are also investigating whether Western spy agencies were involved in the Wagner Group uprising.

How are other leaders reacting?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told DW that the Wagner mutiny shows "the danger of being dependent on mercenaries."

"The events we saw unfolding in Russia over the weekend demonstrates the weakness and the fragility of the Russian regime," he said, speaking from the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.

He added, however, that the mutiny is "an internal Russian issue."

"We need to remember these are internal Russian matters, it's not for NATO," Stoltenberg told DW. "What matters for NATO is Ukraine."

NATO chief speaks to DW after Wagner mutiny in Russia

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden spoke out on the issue for the first time on Monday, dismissing the Russian government's allegations that Washington and its allies could have played a role in the uprising.

"We made clear we were not involved, we had nothing to do with this," Biden said.

What happened during the Wagner mutiny?

In a shock move on Friday evening, Prigozhin and Wagner fighters launched a revolt against Russia's military leadership that lasted into Saturday.

Wagner forces seized the Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, while other fighters advanced on the Russian capital of Moscow. Some reports said Wagner forces came as close as 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Moscow.

Russian military bloggers reported that six Russian army helicopters and one aircraft were destroyed, killing the crews. Russian officials have not confirmed the deaths, but Prigozhin acknowledged that Wagner troops "were forced to shoot down flying objects."

Prigozhin abruptly called off the advance on Saturday, following the deal between the Wagner chief and the Kremlin that was brokered by Belarus.

Putin denounced the mutiny as treason and vowed to punish those taking part. However, after the deal was brokered with Prigozhin, Putin said he'd accepted the terms of the deal.

In exchange for the retreat of Wagner troops, Russia said it would drop criminal charges against Prigozhin and that it would not prosecute Wagner troops.

rs/rc (Reuters, AFP, AP)

The Wagner Group: Russia's shadow mercenary organization