- “We went as a demonstration of protest, not to overthrow government.”
- Wanted commanders’s accountability who botched Russia’s campaign in Ukraine. Prigozhin.
- Wagner chief says his march exposed serious problems with security.
The chief of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group said on Monday that he announced march towards Moscow with an aim to stage protest demonstration and denied the allegations that he intended to overthrow President Vladimir Putin-led government.
Two days after leading an aborted mutiny, Yevgeny Prigozhin released an audio message wherein he gave few clues about his own fate or the deal under which he stood down.
In the first public remarks released since he was last seen on Saturday night smiling and high-fiving bystanders from the back of an SUV as he withdrew from a city occupied by his men, Yevgeny Prigozhin said his fighters had halted their campaign to avert bloodshed.
“We went as a demonstration of protest, not to overthrow the government of the country,” Prigozhin said in an 11-minute audio message released on the Telegram messaging app.
“Our march showed many things we discussed earlier: the serious problems with security in the country.”
He said his goal had been to prevent his Wagner militia’s destruction, and to force accountability on commanders who had botched Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine. He said his fighters did not engage in combat on the ground in Russia, and regretted having to shoot down Russian aircraft that had fired on them.
“We halted at the moment when the first assault unit deployed its artillery (near Moscow), conducted reconnaissance and realised that a lot of blood would be spilled.”
He made no mention of his own whereabouts or future plans, and revealed no further details of the mysterious agreement that brought a halt to his mutiny. On Saturday he had said he was leaving for Belarus under a deal brokered by that country’s president.
Case not closed
Prigozhin shocked the world by leading Saturday’s armed revolt, only to abruptly call it off as his fighters approached the capital having shot down several aircraft but meeting no resistance on the ground during a dash of nearly 1,000 km (600 miles).
Russia’s three main news agencies reported on Monday that a criminal case against Prigozhin had not been closed, an apparent reversal of an offer of immunity publicised as part of the deal that persuaded him to stand down.
There was no word about the revolt from Putin himself since Saturday, when he said the rebellion put Russia’s very existence under threat and vowed to punish those behind it.
On Monday, the Kremlin released a video of him congratulating participants of an industrial forum, which included no indication of when it had been filmed.
Mikhail Mishustin, who leads Putin’s cabinet as his appointed prime minister, acknowledged that Russia had faced “a challenge to its stability”, and called for public loyalty.
“We need to act together, as one team, and maintain the unity of all forces, rallying around the president,” he told a televised government meeting.
Authorities also released video showing Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu flying in a plane and being briefed, also containing no evidence of when it was filmed.
One of Prigozhin’s principal demands had been that Shoigu be sacked, along with Russia’s top general, who by Monday evening had yet to appear in public since the mutiny.