Russia's weakened Putin thanks troops for preventing civil war

Moscow says preparations are underway for the Wagner mercenary group to hand over its heavy military hardware following Saturday's failed rebellion. The move came after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he would abandon Wagner and thanked his troops for preventing civil war.

By Stefan J. Bos

There was a moment of observance for those who died in the battle against the Wagner mercenary group.

This weekend's Wagner mutiny was also the biggest challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin since he came to power more than two decades ago.

In his first face-to-face public appearance since this weekend's rebellion, Putin thanked his troops for preventing civil war.

The Russian leader told some 2,500 members of the security forces, National Guard, and military units that they and the people stood up against mutiny. "Our resolution and courage, as well as the consolidation of the entire Russian society, has been huge and has played a defining role in overcoming these obstacles and the mutiny," he said.

"You can see that the army, society, and people were one. This has allowed us to overcome the extremely dangerous situation that the country was in," Putin added.    

He also revealed that the Russian state entirely financed the Wagner mercenary group. Putin said Russia spent 86 billion roubles, some  $1 billion on it, between May 2022 and May 2023.

He noted that Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who led the group's brief mutiny last Saturday, made almost as much from his food and catering business during the same period.

Wagner shut down

However, Putin warned that the Wagner group would be shut down, and its fighters had the choice to sign a contract with the Ministry of Defence or relocate to Belarus.

In Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko told his defence minister that Wagner soldiers could provide Belarus with "priceless" information about warfare.

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said his short-lived rebellion was a response to government plans to take direct control of the mercenary group.

He agreed to leave Russia for Belarus after calling off his troops - and on Tuesday, a plane linked to Prigozhin landed in the capital, Minsk.

Yet it has raised questions about the chain of command in Russia's military, and observers say it could encourage Russian troops fighting in neighbouring Ukraine to surrender or leave.

With Putin's position weakened, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky quickly claimed the Ukrainian counter-offensive had advanced on all fronts.

But it comes at substantial human costs. Since Russia invaded Ukraine last year, hundreds of thousands of people, many of them soldiers, are believed to have been killed or injured. Millions of people were forced to flee their homes.

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos

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27 June 2023, 17:21