Putin says Russian mercenary group has no legal basis and ‘does not exist’

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said private military company Wagner ‘simply doesn’t exist’ as a legal entity, in comments adding to a series of often bizarre twists and turns that followed the group’s abortive uprising on last month – the most serious threat to Putin’s 23-year-old. year-long reign amid war in Ukraine.

“There is no law on private military organizations. It just doesn’t exist,” Putin told a Russian newspaper on Thursday evening, referring to the Wagner group.

Putin told Kommersant his own version of a Kremlin event attended by 35 Wagner commanders, including the group’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, on June 29. This meeting took place just five days after Prigozhin and his troops staged a stunning but short-lived rebellion against Moscow. authorities.

The meeting was revealed earlier this week by a Kremlin official.

Putin said that during the talks, Wagner rejected an offer to keep his troops in Ukraine, where they played key roles on the battlefield, under their direct commander.

“All of them could have gathered in one place and continued to serve,” Putin told the newspaper, “and nothing would have changed for them. They would have been led by the same person who had been their real commander from the start.

Putin has previously said Wagner’s troops must choose whether to sign contracts with the Russian Defense Ministry, move to neighboring Belarus or retire from service.

According to Putin, although “many nodded” when he made his proposal, Prigozhin dismissed the idea, replying that “the boys will not agree with such a decision”.

This, Putin said, was one of “several job options” offered at the meeting.

During the revolt that lasted less than 24 hours, Prigozhin mercenaries quickly swept through the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and captured the military headquarters there without firing a shot. , before traveling about 200 kilometers (125 miles) to Moscow. Prigozhin described the move as a “march of justice” to oust military leaders, who demanded Wagner sign contracts with the Defense Ministry by July 1.

Prigozhin’s fate and the terms of an agreement that ended the armed rebellion by offering amnesty for him and his mercenaries, as well as permission to travel to Belarus remain unclear.

Wagner’s mercenaries are completing the handover of their weapons to the Russian army, the Ministry of Defense announced on Wednesday.

Their disarmament of Wagner reflects efforts by Russian authorities to defuse the threat they posed and also appears to herald the end of the mercenary group’s operations on the battlefield in Ukraine, where Kyiv forces are engaged in a counter-offensive. .


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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