RIGA, Latvia — Russia’s embattled leadership tried to demonstrate control on Monday after the bruising, chaotic mutiny by Yevgeniy Prigozhin and his Wagner mercenary group, airing a video of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visiting a command post, while the Kremlin released video of a recorded address by President Vladimir Putin to young engineers.
It was not clear when the video address by Putin was recorded, leaving questions about his whereabouts still swirling as Russians grappled with the aftermath of the crisis. Other key figures in the crisis remained out of sight.
Shoigu’s exact whereabouts and the timing of the video released by the Ministry of Defense also were not clear. Russian media reported that it was prerecorded, likely on Friday before the Wagner rebellion.
As a state of emergency in the Russian capital was lifted, Russians were left trying to make sense of Putin’s reversal from his threat of tough action against what he called “treason,” and what it could mean in the near-term, especially for the ongoing war in Ukraine, and longer term for stability in the country and for Putin’s political future.
State-owned media, meanwhile, reported on Monday that the insurrection charges against Prigozhin had not yet been rescinded. The Kremlin on Saturday had announced that the charges would be dropped as part of the deal in which Prigozhin agreed to halt his military advance on Moscow and leave Russia for Belarus.
Prigozhin has not resurfaced since leaving the southern city of Rostov-on-Don on Saturday to cheers and shouts of support. His press service has said he will continue answering media questions once his communications are back to normal.
There are also questions about the whereabouts of his paramilitary group and its future, whether Belarusian authorities would accept a small private army on its territory, or whether the militia may resurface in Africa, where it has acted as a state proxy with security contracts and other ties to some governments.
Putin was seen during his emergency address to the nation on Saturday during the crisis, but there was speculation he may have left Moscow for one of his residences northwest of the capital, after two planes from Russia’s special fleet used by Putin departed the city that day.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the president was “working in the Kremlin” and the two planes returned to Moscow on Sunday evening, Russian news outlet Agentstvo reported.
News coverage by Russian media displayed how deeply the events have rattled Putin’s authoritarian state, which is built on his power as supreme leader with the rule of law readily dispensable and competing fiefs — including oligarchs and officials — jostling constantly for presidential favor, state benefits and influence.
An opinion column in Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets wrote that the “most terrifying scenario” — of fighting in the streets of Moscow and elsewhere and a split in Russia’s military and security forces — had been averted.
“Russia displayed its vulnerability to the whole world and to itself. Russia dashed to the abyss at full speed and with the same speed stepped back from it,” the columnist, Mikhail Rostovsky, wrote under the headline: “Prigozhin Leaves, Problems Remain: Deep Political Consequences of a Failed Coup.”
But there were signs of a potential crackdown on Russian private military companies, with widespread calls to bring them to heel, even though they are already technically illegal in Russia. One key reason for Wagner’s mutiny was Prigozhin’s refusal to sign Ministry of Defense contracts that would have sidelined the militia and submitted it to Shoigu’s authority.
Andrei Kartapolov, chairman of the defense committee in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, told the Vedomosti newspaper there was no need to ban Wagner, calling it the most combat-ready unit in Russia. Kartapolov said Wagner fighters could continue to serve in the war in Ukraine if they signed contracts with the military. Such a path may be unpalatable to many Wagner fighters, who are intensely loyal to Prigozhin.
Another newspaper, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, called for all armed formations not officially part of the security structures to be disarmed given “today’s political reality,” in an article published Sunday.
“The events of June 24 will undoubtedly have long-term consequences for the country. It became clear that a man with a gun, if he is not a state official, is a real threat to the state and statehood,” the newspaper’s editor, Konstantin Remchukov, wrote in an opinion column. “In Russia there should not be armed people who are loyal first to their commanders and only secondarily to someone else.”