MOSCOW, July 10 (Xinhua) — Five days after the commander of mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin pledged allegiance to the Russian government when he met Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, a senior government spokesman said Monday They staged a brief rebellion. The puzzling incident has raised questions about the power and influence the pair wield.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the three-hour meeting, held on June 29, included not only Prigozhin but his Wagner Group military contractor commander. Putin weighed in on Wagner’s actions on the Ukrainian battlefield, where mercenaries fought alongside Russian troops, and the insurgency itself.
“The commanders themselves stated their views on what happened. They emphasized that they were staunch supporters and soldiers of the head of state and commander-in-chief and expressed their readiness to continue fighting for the motherland,” Peskov said.
News of Putin’s face-to-face meeting with Prigozhin, who led troops to Moscow last month to demand a change in the military leadership, was unusual. Although the Russian leader branded Prigozhin a traitor when the rebellion broke out and vowed to punish him harshly, insurrection charges against the mercenary chief were later dropped.
Prigozhin did not comment on the Kremlin meeting, and his ultimate fate remains unclear, especially since Monday’s statement suggested that much was being negotiated behind closed doors. He could still face prosecution for financial misconduct or other charges.
Monday’s announcement came as Russia’s Defense Ministry released a video featuring military commander-in-chief General Valery Gerasimov, one of the targets of Prigozhin’s rebellion. It was the first time Gerasimov had been seen since the uprising.
The two updates appeared to be another attempt by the Kremlin to show it was in control after a turbulent period, and reflected Putin’s delicate balance between condemning the biggest threat to his 23-year rule and who was behind it, while simultaneously Not alienating a popular figure whose Russian army has scored the biggest battlefield victory of the past year’s war.
Abbas Galyamov, a former Putin speechwriter, told The Associated Press that Putin recognized Prigozhin’s patriotism and needed his troops on the front lines, while Prigozhin needed Putin to ensure he was immune from prosecution. . Galyamov said the two were negotiating as allies and that Prigozhin got away with it.
Galiamov said in a Zoom interview from Tel Aviv that Prigozhin “has emerged victorious from this insurgency.” “He has proven himself to be the master of the situation.”
What made the meeting even more unusual was that, until recently, Putin denied any link between the state and Prigozhin’s forces. Mercenaries are illegal in Russia, but Wagner’s troops fought for Russian interests around the globe and played a vital role in taking Bakhmut in the longest and bloodiest battle of the war. Putin has confirmed that Prigozhin’s company operates under government contracts.
Prigozhin has been critical of the decisions of Russia’s top military officials throughout the war, leading to tensions with the Kremlin that culminated in the June 24 mutiny.
Although Prigorzhin claimed that the uprising was not against the president, but to oust defense ministers Sergei Shoigu and Gerasimov, the rebellion severely weakened Putin’s authority. After an agreement was reached that Prigozhin would go to Belarus, he called off the mutiny.
Mark Galeotti, head of consultancy Mayak Intelligence, said the delicate dance with Prigozhin was “a further compromise on Putin’s part, reflecting his reluctance to make difficult and ruthless personnel decisions. “
“He would have liked to see Ukrainians bombed by the dozen, but he would not face anyone in his own circle,” Galeotti wrote in The Spectator.
Some Russia watchers will be shocked by the turn of events, predicts Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Center for Russia in Eurasia.
“When you look at it from the perspective of the Russian elite, it’s ridiculous,” she told The Associated Press. “It’s unbelievable and shocking.”
Days after the revolt, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko said Prigozhin was in Belarus. But last week the president said the mercenary chief was in Russia while his troops remained in camp.
At the June 29 meeting, Putin made an “assessment” of Wagner’s actions on the Ukrainian battlefield and “the events of June 24,” Peskov said. The president also “listened to the explanations of the commanders and provided them with options for further use and use in combat,” a Kremlin spokesman said.
A total of 35 people attended the meeting, Peskov said. Putin offered Prigozhin’s fighters a choice: fight as part of the regular Russian army, retire or join Prigozhin in Belarus.
A NATO summit in Lithuania later this week is examining how to ramp up pressure on Moscow after 16 months of war.
In other developments, the governor of Ukraine’s Zaporozhye region said on Monday that a Russian airstrike on a school in southern Ukraine killed four adults as people gathered to receive humanitarian aid, calling the attack ” war crime”.
Three women in their 40s and a man were killed in the strike in the town of Orishiv on Sunday, Gov. Yuriy Malashko said.
Marashko said a guided-air bomb caused the school to explode, but gave no evidence. Eleven others were wounded in the attack, he said.
In total, Russia opened fire on 10 settlements in the province in one day, he said.
Moscow denies it targeted civilian sites. Russia has been repeatedly accused of doing so and committing other war crimes since the full-scale invasion began in February 2022.
In March, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin on war crime charges, accusing him of being personally responsible for the abduction of Ukrainian children.
Investigations are also ongoing in Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The International Center for the Prosecution of Crimes against Ukraine, based in The Hague, is assisting with these investigations.
Ukraine has launched a counteroffensive to retake the occupied territories, and Deputy Defense Minister Hannah Malial reported on the progress on Monday.
Over the past week, militants in the country have retaken 10.2 square kilometers (3.9 square miles) of territory in the south and 4 square kilometers (1.5 square miles) in the east, she said. The gains include the commanding heights of Bakhmut, the city Prigozhin’s forces declared in May, she said on Telegram. None of these claims could be independently verified. (Associated Press)
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