Putin thanks Russians in first speech since Wagner uprising

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday thanked the Russian government and citizens for rallying to the “destiny of the fatherland” in the face of armed rebellion.

The public remarks were Putin’s first since a short-lived rebellion led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, ended with a retreat of troops from Prigozhin over the weekend. The uprising marked an extraordinary challenge for President Putinin power for two decades and could have long-term consequences for his rule and his war in Ukraine.

Putin looked solemn and determined as he stressed that immediate action had been taken to “neutralize the threat” and “avoid much bloodshed”.

“It took time, not least 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 put down anyway, which Wagner’s mercenaries must have known, Putin said. Their “criminal acts” were aimed at dividing and weakening the country – a betrayal of their homeland and their people, the president said.

“It was precisely this result – fratricidal – that Russia’s enemies wanted: both the neo-Nazis in kyiv, their Western bosses and all sorts of national traitors,” Putin said. “They wanted Russian soldiers to kill each other, to kill military and civilians, so that in the end Russia would lose and our society would split, suffocate in a bloody civil war.”

Putin ended his public address with a series of thanks.

“I thank all our military, law enforcement, special services who stood in the way of the rebels, remained true to their duty,” Putin said. He praised Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for his help in the “peaceful resolution” of the mutiny. 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 part of the meeting broadcast on Russian state television, Putin appeared serious as he addressed his senior officials.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with Russian law enforcement chiefs at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Monday, June 26, 2023. / Credit: Valery Sharifulin / AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with Russian law enforcement chiefs at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Monday, June 26, 2023. / Credit: Valery Sharifulin / AP

“I have brought you together 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 time, as well as to talk about the tasks that we face in the following the analysis of the events that occurred in the country,” he said.

On Sunday morning, Prigozhin was to leave for Belarus as part of the agreement negotiated with the Kremlin. As part of the deal, Wagner’s troops would be pardoned and criminal charges against Prigozhin would be dropped.

However, according to a US official, Prigozhin was still in Russia on Monday and remained in command of Wagner, while his troops had returned to their bases in Ukraine.

The United States thought the mutiny would be “very bloody, very violent, but it wasn’t,” the US official told CBS News.

Prigozhin probably had around 10,000 soldiers with him during the mutiny and a much smaller number in the units advancing on Moscow. It is unlikely that Prigozhin and his soldiers were able to break through the defenses erected by Putin’s National Guard, the US official said.

David Martin contributed reporting.

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