President Vladimir Putin publicly denounced the leaders of the Wagner mercenary group as traitors to Russia in a late-night speech to the nation, his first remarks since the mutiny occurred, posing a significant challenge to his long-standing rule. While not naming individuals directly, Putin accused the organizers of the rebellion of betraying their country, their people, and manipulating those who were coerced into participating in the mutiny.
The President emphasized that Ukraine and its Western allies had been eagerly anticipating internal strife within Russia. The United States and Europe have publicly stated that they were not involved in the weekend's events and aimed to make that clear to Moscow.
In his speech, Putin directly addressed the Wagner fighters, providing them with three options: joining the regular military, returning home, or relocating to Belarus. He reassured them that the promise he made would be fulfilled, but it remains unclear what this means for the leader of the group, Yevgeny Prigozhin. State media reported earlier that the criminal case against Prigozhin, opened at the start of the crisis, has not yet been closed.
Prigozhin, in an 11-minute audio message on his press service's Telegram channel, explained that the march on Moscow by Wagner troops aimed to hold accountable those responsible for significant mistakes in Russia's war in Ukraine. He also sought to prevent what he referred to as the "destruction" of his private army by officials. Notably, he stopped short of openly pledging loyalty to Putin, emphasizing that their goal was not to overthrow the existing regime or the legitimately elected government.
The Kremlin, in its efforts to move forward, aired footage earlier showing Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu meeting with commanders, indicating a desire to restore stability. Putin's comments were his first since denouncing the mutiny as "treason" in a TV address on Saturday. Although he had threatened "harsh" punishment, no such measures were carried out.
Ultimately, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko negotiated with Prigozhin to quell the revolt, allowing Prigozhin and his fighters to travel to Belarus and dropping criminal mutiny charges against them. Prigozhin highlighted the support his fighters received from civilians as they marched through Russia's heartland, further criticizing top security officials for inadequate resistance during their 780-kilometer advancement into the country.
The rapid chain of events has left the international community grappling with the political consequences of a rebellion that shattered Putin's image as an invincible leader and posed the most significant threat to his rule to date. The crisis has exposed deep divisions within Russia regarding the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, with a Ukrainian counteroffensive striving to push Russian forces out of occupied territories.
Leaders around the world are closely monitoring the fallout from these events. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock emphasized that there appears to be an internal power struggle within Russia, while US President Joe Biden stated that it is too early to determine the full implications of the mutiny.
The situation continues to evolve, and further developments are expected as Russia navigates the aftermath of this unprecedented challenge to its leadership.