Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday thanked Russia’s government and citizens for rallying behind “the fate of the Fatherland” in the face of.
The public remarks were Putin’s first since a short-lived rebellion led by, ended with Prigozhin’s troops beating a retreat over the weekend. The uprising marked an extraordinary challenge to ‘s two-decade hold on power and could have long-term consequences for his rule and his war in Ukraine.
Putin looked solemn and determined as he emphasized that steps were immediately taken to “neutralize the threat” and “avoid a lot of bloodshed.”
“This took time, including to give those who made a mistake a chance to think again, to understand that their actions are resolutely rejected by society,” Putin said.
An armed rebellion would have been suppressed either way, something that the Wagner mercenaries had to have known, Putin said. Their “criminal acts” were designed to divide and weaken the country —a betrayal of their homeland and their people, the president said.
“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,” Putin said. “They wanted Russian soldiers to kill each other, to kill military personnel and civilians, so that in the end Russia would lose, and our society would split, choke in bloody civil strife.”
Putin ended his public address with a series of acknowledgments.
“I thank all our military personnel, law enforcement officers, special services who stood in the way of the rebels, remained faithful to their duty,” Putin said. He commended Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for assisting in the mutiny’s “peaceful resolution.” He even thanked the soldiers and commanders of the Wagner group for stopping their advance before blood was spilled.
After the speech, Putin met with the heads of his law enforcement and security agencies. In a portion of the meeting that aired on Russian state television, Putin appeared grave as he addressed his senior officials.
“I have gathered you in order to thank you for the work done during these few days, and in order to discuss the situation that has developed at this point in time, as well as to talk about the tasks that we face as a result of the analysis of the events that have occurred in the country,” he said.
On Sunday morning, Prigozhin was set to leave for Belarus under the deal brokered with the Kremlin. As part of the deal, Wagner troops would be pardoned and criminal charges against Prigozhin would be dropped.
However, according to a U.S. official, Prigozhin was still in Russia on Monday and remained in charge of Wagner, while his troops had returned to their bases in Ukraine.
The U.S. thought the mutiny would be “very bloody, very violent, but it was not,” the U.S. official told CBS News.
Prigozhin likely had about 10,000 troops with him during the mutiny and a much smaller number in the units advancing on Moscow. It appeared improbably that Prigozhin and his soldiers would have been able to break through the defenses erected by Putin’s National Guard, the U.S. official said.
David Martin contributed to reporting.