From Associated Press
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday denounced the organizers of the weekend uprising, which has posed the gravest threat to his power yet, as a traitor at the hands of the Ukrainian government and its allies.
In a five-minute televised speech near midnight, Putin spoke sternly and tiredly, trying to appeal to stability. He criticized the perpetrators of the uprising to prevent further crisis and antagonized most of the mercenaries and their hardline supporters, some of whom were outraged by the Kremlin’s handling of the situation. I tried to strike a balance between what I didn’t do and what I didn’t do.
Putin, who is running out of strength in the face of a Ukrainian counterattack, praised the common mercenaries for keeping the situation from turning into “massive bloodshed”. And although there were signs of local support for the uprising, the people were united, he said.
Earlier in the day, Evgeny Prigozhin, head of the mercenary Wagner Group, which led the rebellion, defended the short-lived rebellion. He again mocked the Russian military, but said he never intended to stage a coup against Putin. Prigozhin called for an armed rebellion on Friday to oust the military leadership.
Putin’s speech was pre-announced by a spokesman and was touted by Russian state media as “defining the fate of Russia”. In fact, there were no groundbreaking developments in this speech.
Abbas Galyamov, a former Kremlin speechwriter turned political analyst, said the speech was weak. In a Facebook post, he said it was a sign that Putin was “deeply dissatisfied with his view of this whole report and is trying to rectify the situation.”
The Kremlin later released footage of Putin meeting with senior security, law enforcement and military officials, including Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, whom the rioters sought to remove. Putin thanked his team members for their hard work over the weekend and signaled his support for the struggling Shoigu. Earlier, authorities released a video of Shoigu inspecting troops stationed in Ukraine.
Putin did not name Prigozhin, but said the organizers of the rebellion had tried to force the group’s soldiers to “shoot themselves.”
He said that “Russia’s enemies” had hoped that the rebellion would divide and weaken Russia, but that they were “miscalculated”.
Western officials have remained silent in public comment on the rebellion, with President Joe Biden saying on Monday that the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) were not involved. Speaking at the White House, Mr Biden said he was wary of speaking publicly because “I don’t want to give Putin an excuse to blame the West or blame NATO for this”. .
“We made it clear that we were not involved and had nothing to do with it,” he said.
Prigogine said he was working to prevent the destruction of his private military company Wagner. “We started marching for injustice,” he said in an 11-minute statement on Monday, without giving details of where he was or what his plans were. .
The fraud was apparently a government order requiring Wagner soldiers to sign a contract with the Ministry of Defense by July 1 if they wished to continue fighting, thus ensuring success on the battlefield in Ukraine. Despite this, the group may effectively disband. Prigozhin also accused Russian forces of attacking his own troops and prompting them to march.
Feuds between Wagner Group leaders and military echelons worsened throughout the war, and a rebellion broke out when mercenaries left Ukraine to occupy military headquarters in the southern Russian city of Rostov. They marched unchallenged for hundreds of miles toward Moscow and turned back on Saturday in less than 24 hours.
The Kremlin announced that a deal had been signed with Prigozhin to move to Belarus and receive an amnesty along with the soldiers. His whereabouts had not been confirmed as of Monday.
Prigozhin boasted that his march was a “master class” on how Russian forces should have carried out the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. He also ridiculed his army for the security breach that allowed Wagner to march 780 kilometers (500 mi) towards Moscow without encountering resistance.
It remained unclear what would ultimately become of Prigozhin and his army under a deal allegedly brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Prigozhin said Lukashenko suggested to Wagner to find a way to “continue the work under a legitimate jurisdiction.” This suggested Prigogine might retain military power, but it was not clear which jurisdiction he was referring to.
Although the rebellion was short-lived, it was not bloodless. Russian media reported that several military helicopters and communication planes were shot down by Wagner forces, killing at least 15 people. Prigogine expressed regret at the attack on the aircraft, but said they were bombing his convoy.
Russian media have reported that despite previous Kremlin statements, the criminal case against Prigozhin has not yet closed, and some Russian lawmakers have called for his dismissal. In his speech on Monday, Putin did not repeat Saturday’s threat to punish the rebel leaders.
Retired general and current parliamentarian Andrei Gurlyov, who clashed with the mercenary leader, said Prigozhin and his right-hand man Dmitry Utkin deserved to be “shot in the head.”
St. Petersburg city councilor Nikita Yurefev also said he had submitted a request to the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office and the Federal Security Service (FSB) asking who would be punished for the mutiny.
Russian media reported that Wagner’s offices in several Russian cities reopened on Monday and the company has resumed recruitment of recruits.
In a return to at least superficial normalcy, the mayor of Moscow on Saturday announced the end of the “counter-terrorism regime” imposed on the capital. During that time, troops and armored vehicles set up checkpoints in the suburbs, and authorities destroyed roads leading into the city.
For months, Prigozhin accused Shoigu and his chief of staff, General Valery Gerasimov, with swearing insults and did not supply enough ammunition for his troops in the battle for the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, the longest and bloodiest battle of the war. accused of not providing.
Prigozin said most of the fighters refused to take command of the defense ministry. He said Wagner had been attacked after he had withdrawn from Ukraine and assembled in Rostov-on-Don on June 30, when he was due to hand over military equipment he had been using in Ukraine.
Russian political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya said on Twitter that Mr Prigozhin’s uprising was “not an attempt to seize power or take over the Kremlin” but a desperate move amid growing rifts with the military leadership. said.
Mr Stanovaya said Mr Prigozhin could survive the crisis, but there was no political future in Putin’s Russia.
It is unclear how the rift caused by the 24-Hour Rebellion will affect the Ukrainian war, with Western officials saying it is demoralizing the Russian army. Wagner’s forces were key to the only Russian ground victory in months at Bakhmut.
The UK Ministry of Defense said on Monday that Ukraine had “gained momentum” in its advance around Bakhmut, advancing north and south of the town. Ukrainian forces claimed to have recaptured the southeastern Ukraine village of Rybnopil, where heavy fighting had taken place.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday that troops had also advanced to the war-torn Donetsk region and Zaporizhia after visiting them. “Today is a happy day as our warriors march forward in all directions,” he said in his evening speech, without elaborating.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the weekend’s events showed the war was “cracking the Russian political system”.
“The monster that Putin created with Wagner is now biting him,” Borrell said. “Monsters are acting against their creators.”
Contributed by Associated Press correspondent Lorne Cook of Brussels and Jill Lawless of London.
Follow AP coverage of the Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine-war.
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