Russian President Vladimir Putin in a Tuesday speech before soldiers and security officers at the Kremlin explained more about the fate of Wagner Group after its weekend armed munity which shocked Russia and the world. While the Wagner chief has been exiled to Belarus, and the treason charges have essentially been forgiven - with the mutiny case closed - he strongly hinted that corruption charges could be on the horizon, given Wagner had received billions in state funds.
Importantly, the Russian President also stressed that the nation's armed forces and security services had stopped a "civil war" - which is the first such dramatic reference made by Putin to this worst-case scenario. "You have de-facto stopped the civil war, you acted in a clear and well-coordinated manner in a difficult situation," Putin said during the ceremony at the Kremlin's Cathedral Square. "We did not have to remove combat detachments from the special military operation zone" in Ukraine, he said.
He also confirmed that Russian air forces pilots had been killed. Wagner had previously claimed to have shot down helicopters during the Friday through Saturday turmoil, and that the Russian military had fired on its positions and convoys. Subsequent reports in the West tallied six helicopters and a plane that were shot down, but this total hasn't been confirmed from Moscow. But it's now been revealed in international reports that at least 12 Russian pilots were killed as Wagner convoys made their way to Moscow Saturday, before the armed "march" was called off. Wagner possesses sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons.
Putin says Russia's armed forces "essentially stopped a civil war" and did such a good job that Russia didn't have to remove any units from the war zone in Ukraine.— max seddon (@maxseddon) June 27, 2023
He holds a minute of silence for the pilots killed in clashes with Wagner. pic.twitter.com/pzNWSvQZo0
"The airmen didn’t flinch and performed their orders and military duty with honor," Putin said, but didn't reference the exact death toll, and held a moment of silence. He referenced those who rebelled within Wagner as traitors who in the end served the aims of the Ukraine government.
But Putin also said it was good that Wagner Group fighters didn't allow the mutiny to cause "major bloodshed". Near in time to Putin's speech the FSB confirmed it has dropped its criminal investigation into Yevgeny Prigozhin and the uprising because "its participants ceased the activities directly aimed at committing the crime."
The military has also said the mercenary firm is preparing to hand over its weaponry, after the evening prior Putin said they have the opportunity to sign contracts with the nation's armed forces, or they can go to Belarus. "There was a desire not to let the worst case scenario happen," Putin spokesman Dimitry Peskov explained as well. "There were certain promises, the agreements are being realized," and Putin "always keeps his word," he said.
As for Wagner Group, Putin revealed that it had long been supplied and financed from the state budget and Defense Ministry. This large investment perhaps explains why the group became so indispensable to operations in Ukraine.
The Wagner Group was fully dependent on state support, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with the country’s military in the Kremlin on Tuesday. The private military company’s fighters were supplied and paid by the Defense Ministry and the state budget, he added. The president affirmed, in statements made to high-ranking officers, according to state media translation:
Between May 2022 and May 2023, the Russian authorities allocated 86.26 billion rubles ($1.04 billion) for wages and incentive payments for the Wagner fighters, the president revealed.
Meanwhile, Wagner founder Evgeny Prigozhin, who also co-owns the Concord catering company, earned billions of rubles on state contracts, Putin added.
"When the upkeep of the Wagner Group rested on the shoulders of the state, the Concord owner received… 80 billion rubles ($960 million) from the state in a year by supplying food products to the army," Putin said. "I hope that no one stole anything while fulfilling these [contracts]," he continued, and said authorities will "certainly dig into it."
Meeting w officers today, Putin rly went after Prigozhin for profiteering, arguing that the state sustained Wagner while “the Concord owner” earned big money from catering deals. The “I hope they stole less” line is here. Seems to be hinting at criminal investigations to come. pic.twitter.com/8w8TRJhnsM— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) June 27, 2023
This strongly suggests the corruption aspect to the investigation could be ongoing even as the 'treason' charges have essentially been forgiven. "We fully financed this group from the federal budget," Putin acknowledged.
And certainly, using these funds to launch an uprising against the state at the very least constitutes "misuse" and corruption. It is still unclear after all of this, whether a single arrest or detention has been made.
As for Wagner's own losses from the weekend events, Prigozhin previously revealed at lest two KIA, and multiple social media videos appeared to show major airstrikes on Wagner convoys in some places, but have been difficult to confirm.
The M-4 "Don" is a major expressway that links Moscow, Voronezh, Rostov-on-Don. This is the major l route, I presume, by which Prigozhin’s forces will attempt to move on Moscow, if they are strong enough. This morning a Wagner convoy was attacked on the M-4. pic.twitter.com/wDLRy3IO8H— Mike (@Doranimated) June 24, 2023
US and NATO leaders, as well as Western pundits, have continued to underscore that the weekend events have exposed "cracks" in the Russian state, and that this has 'weakened' Putin - though this hasn't been reflected in an serious setbacks on the Ukrainian battlefield at this point.
Meanwhile, there's as yet no evidence of a major shakeup within the defense ministry, but this still could be coming down the road...
Putin is set to award soldiers who "took part in suppressing the mutiny" in Kremlin. Shoygu is ready to receive another award. Man is not going anywhere, it seems. pic.twitter.com/n7mIQnY5E1— Dmitri (@wartranslated) June 27, 2023