Update(1648ET): Within hours ahead of Putin's big speech Monday evening (local time), the Kremlin touted there would be several "major" announcements, but there was really nothing earth-shattering. In fact much of the fairly short address to the nation on the Wagner rebellion was a reiteration of prior Kremlin statements, and it didn't exactly appear 'tough'.
While Putin stressed that "traitors will face justice" and that "we defeated a colossal threat" - he at the same time seemed to offer a bit of an olive branch. "At the same time we knew and know that the vast majority of the fighters and commanders of the Wagner group are also patriots of Russia, devoted to their people and the state," Putin said. He said Wagner fighters could sign contracts with the Russian army. "Today you have the opportunity to continue serving Russia by entering into a contract with the Ministry of Defense or other law enforcement agencies, or to return to your family and friends. Anyone who wants to can go to Belarus," he said of the mutineers. "
The promise I made will be fulfilled. I repeat, the choice is yours, but I am sure it will be the choice of Russian soldiers who have realized their tragic mistake."
And yet at this moment the FSB and Russian Prosecutor's Office have made statements implying the criminal case for treason is still open against Prigozhin, who is presumably now in Belarus. And more from the Putin speech:
Mr Putin claimed mutiny was “resolutely rejected by society”, and that he directly ordered that “steps were taken to avoid a lot of bloodshed”, as he praised Russian pilots apparently shot down by Wagner mercenaries for having “saved Russia from tragic devastating consequences”.
“I thank all our military personnel, law enforcement officers, special services who stood in the way of the rebels, remained faithful to their duty, oath and their people,” the Russian president said.
Putin looked very serious and angry during the short speech:
⚡️Full video of Vladimir Putin's address to the citizens of Russia pic.twitter.com/2QKyB2FB0q— War Monitor (@WarMonitors) June 26, 2023
Just prior to Putin's speech, President Biden issued a statement in a presser saying that the US and its allies had "nothing to do" with the rebellion.
"They agreed with me that we had to make sure we gave Putin no excuse — let me emphasize, we gave Putin no excuse — to blame this on the West, to blame this on NATO," Biden said. "We made clear that we were not involved. We had nothing to do with it. This was part of a struggle within the Russian system."
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday that the message was delivered to the Russians through various diplomatic channels.
"We also made clear to all our allies and partners that the United States was not involved and would not get involved in these events, and that we view them as internal Russian matters," Kirby said at the White House press briefing. "We delivered that same message to the Russians themselves through appropriate diplomatic channels."
While Moscow has yet to attempt a direct linkage between Wagner's actions and Western intelligence, FM Lavrov did issue this stinging rebuke on Monday, which is at least an insinuation:
The US enthusiastically supports regime change whenever it can benefit from the process, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has told RT. If a protest movement targets a government more pliant to American interests, Washington will inevitably reject it, the diplomat added.
There have been numerous attempts at regime change around the world in recent years and they were “met with a different response on the part of the US, depending on who was in power and who was trying to carry out the coup,” Lavrov said in an interview on Monday.
“Where the West is happy with the current government, in such situations no protest can be legitimate. But where the government doesn’t reflect the interests of the hegemon and is pursuing the national interests, in those cases we see various unlawful forces are being stimulated [to attack the authorities],” the diplomat added.
Putin in his speech said something similar, specifically suggesting Ukraine and Russia's enemies "wanted" this:
It was precisely this outcome - fratricide - that Russia's enemies wanted: both the neo-Nazis in Kyiv, and their Western patrons, and all sorts of national traitors.
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. They rubbed their hands, dreaming of taking revenge for their failures at the front and during the so-called counteroffensive, but they miscalculated.
The only guy who looks happy to be at the Putin security meeting is Pavel Zarubin, the state TV reporter pic.twitter.com/zucRS5NxOo— max seddon (@maxseddon) June 26, 2023
Currently, Ukraine has claimed some degree of gains, but still has largely failed to exploit the Wagner situation and Russian internal discord when it comes to any serious frontline advance.
I'm not sure why Putin bothered to put this out, except for the fact Prigozhin made a big statement today that dominated headlines.— max seddon (@maxseddon) June 26, 2023
Amazing how Prigozhin is setting the agenda. Over Putin's entire rule I can only recall Navalny doing that, or Chechen rebels if you go way back
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Will Wagner mercenary firm continue to exist or not? Does more punishment or possible future imprisonment await Prigozhin, or will he merely lead his private army from a posh hotel in Minsk? Will Wagner remain active as a significant fighting force on the Ukraine battlefield? These are some of the big questions that remain unclear after the shocking weekend turmoil set in motion by Prigozhin. But what is clear is that he's still defending his actions as necessary, while hitting out once again at the Russian Defense Ministry and top leadership.
The Wagner founder and chief has on Monday issued his first full explanation of his actions which began Friday, setting off Russia's first major internal crisis of the Ukraine war, which was met with denunciations of 'treason' and 'armed mutiny' by President Putin as well as the top military commanders.
Geopolitical analyst Dmitri Alperovitch has offered a hasty translation and paraphrase of the about 11-minute audio message posted to Wagner's Telegram channel. Alperovitch concludes of the new message, "Prigozhin remains defiant and proud of his action. Certainly not acting like a man who had been defeated." And there is "no word about his current whereabouts."
First, some key takeaways via Bloomberg:
- March toward Moscow showed serious security problems in the country, he said in a recording released on Telegram that didn’t specify from where he was speaking
- Prigozhin said he launched march because he wanted to preserve Wagner as a military group and not come under the command of the Defense Ministry
- Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko helped find a negotiated solution to the weekend’s events, he confirms
The translation and quick paraphrase of Prigozhin's new audio message explaining his rebellion can be viewed below [emphasis ZH]...
* * *
Prigozhin confirms that the mutiny was all about Shoigu’s June 10th order to dissolve PMCs like Wagner. Again says that there was a missile attack on the camp on Friday and that 30 Wagner personnel were killed.
Claims his objective of the march was not to show aggression (ed: strange way of showing it). The columns had marched for 780 km. He says no one was killed… on the ground (and the pilot losses are not his fault - they provoked him).
Says Wagner column suffered 2 KIAs (but says they were not their personnel but MoD personnel that had joined them), as well as several wounded.
Prigozhin: 'The goal of the march was not to let PMC Wagner be dissolved and to bring accountability to military leadership for the mistakes made in the war'.
Prigozhin: We stopped when we realized there would be a battle and lots of losses near Moscow. We determined that the demonstration up to that point was sufficient.
Prigozhin: Our decision to turn around was based on 2 factors:
1. We didn’t want to spill Russian blood (ed: you did)
2. We went on a protest demonstration, not to overturn power in the Kremlin.
Prigozhin: Lukashenko offered a solution to preserve Wagner (ed: as I said, this is all about his business interests with Wagner).
⚡️Belarusian sources are claiming that Prigozhin was seen at the Green City Hotel in Minsk. Let’s wait for some paparazzi pics pic.twitter.com/r8ERVrHxXC— War Monitor (@WarMonitors) June 26, 2023
Prigozhin: In 24 hours Wagner covered the same distance that the Russian forces could have covered on February 24, 2022 to Kyiv and Uzgorod (one of the western most towns in Ukraine) - if they had been as prepared as Wagner, the war could have been over in a day.
Prigozhin: Russian citizens were greeting us with Russian and Wagner flags. They were ecstatic to see us and continue to write to us even now. Some are disappointed that we stopped because they saw in our march support for the fight against government bureaucracy.
Prigozhin remains defiant and proud of his action. Certainly not acting like a man who had been defeated. No word about his current whereabouts.