Putin calls rebel leaders traitors, says Russia crushed uprising

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday called those responsible for the armed revolt that plunged his regime into the crisis of traitors playing into the hands of those who wanted to see the country “drowned in a bloody internal conflict”.

Addressing the nation for the first time since the end of the short-lived rebellion over the weekend, Putin sounded defiant but offered little clarity on his expected response.

“Any type of blackmail, any attempt to create internal unrest is doomed to failure,” he said, saying his forces could have crushed a mutiny that has posed the biggest challenge to his rule in more than a decade. 20 years if the mercenary fighters had not turned back. Moscow.

Putin also thanked the Russian people for their support and said the crisis had only served to unite the country.

Earlier Monday, Wagner mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin launched a defiant defense of his own actions and denied trying to topple Putin.

The Kremlin said over the weekend that all charges against the rebel would be dropped and he would be allowed to seek exile. Putin’s statement did not directly refer to Prigozhin by name, but he said he would keep his promise to Wagner fighters that they could join the Russian army or move safely to Belarus.

It followed a day in which the Russian president and other top officials struggled to restore a sense of authority after their power was challenged unprecedentedly.

In his speech, Putin again called the organizers of the rebellion traitors. “The organizers of this rebellion have not only betrayed their country and their people, but have also betrayed those whom they dragged into this mutiny,” the Russian leader said.

Putin said Kyiv and his supporters were looking for the internal conflict that erupted on Russian soil, but offered no evidence to support those claims. President Joe Biden earlier insisted that US and Western allies had “made it clear we weren’t involved”.

Putin, however, took the time to praise the fighters who seized a Russian city and marched towards Moscow before coming to a complete halt.

“We know that the overwhelming majority of the Wagner company are also patriots of Russia, loyal to their people and their country. They proved it with their courage in defending Donbass and Novorossiya,” he said, referring to the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine where Wagner led much of the fighting.

“I thank those commanders and soldiers of the private Wagner company who made the only right decision,” he added, “and stopped at the last line to avoid bloodshed.”

The Russian president also thanked and praised Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, who allegedly brokered the deal to end the crisis and allowed Prigozhin to leave Russia for Belarus. Putin offered the same option to the mercenary leader’s troops.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on MSNBC that the mercenary leader was staying at a hotel in Minsk.

Prigozhin claimed he did not act to overthrow Putin’s regime but to save Wagner from being destroyed by the Russian Defense Ministry. “We started our march because of an injustice,” he said in the nearly 12-minute audio recording shared to his press office channel on Telegram on Monday. He gave no indication of his whereabouts or his plans.

The future of Prigozhin, his rebels and the defense chiefs he has clashed with is no longer clear, and Putin’s speech on Monday only added to the confusion.

CORRECTION (June 26, 2023, 6:45 PM ET): A previous version of this article and headline mistranslated Putin’s comments about the leaders of the armed rebellion. Putin said they couldn’t help but understand that their mutiny would have been crushed, not that they would be brought to justice.

This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com

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