The Kremlin said Monday that President Vladimir Putin had met with Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin days after the mercenary group attempted to topple Russia’s military leadership.
The meeting in the Kremlin took place on June 29, several days after the short-lived rebellion.
“Indeed, the president had such a meeting,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding 35 people had taken part including Wagner’s top leaders and Prigozhin himself.
“The president gave his assessment of the events of June 24,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, referring to the aborted insurrection.
He said that Putin also “listened to accounts” given by Wagner commanders.
The Kremlin’s announcement came after Putin condemned the mutineers as “traitors” and warned against the danger of civil war.
After sending troops to Ukraine in February 2022 Putin relied heavily on Wagner mercenaries but its chief Prigozhin butted heads with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff.
Prigozhin accused the Russian top brass of attempting to “steal” victories from Wagner and slammed Moscow’s “monstrous bureaucracy” for slowing military gains.
He said he ordered his men to march on Moscow because the defence ministry wanted to break up Wagner after their battlefield successes.
Russia’s FSB security service initially launched a criminal probe into calls to stage “an armed mutiny” but said it was dropping the case after Prigozhin called off his men.
– ‘Staunch supporters’ –
Just over two weeks after the aborted mutiny, there is still significant uncertainty surrounding the fate of the Wagner group and the deal that ended the rebellion against Russia’s top military brass.
Under the plan, the mercenary chief and some of his fighters were expected to be exiled to Belarus.
Wagner troops that wanted to keep fighting for Russia would sign contracts with the regular army.
During the three-and-a-half-hour meeting in the Kremlin with Wagner commanders, Putin “offered them alternative options for employment”, including in combat roles.
Observers see the rebellion as the biggest challenge to Putin’s authority during his more than 20-year rule.
Wagner commanders “stressed that they are staunch supporters… of the head of state”, Peskov said.
“They also said that they were ready to continue fighting for the motherland.”
Last week, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, who acted as a mediator in the deal with Wagner, said that neither Prigozhin nor his men were in his country.
Speculation has been rife that there could be a reshuffle among Russia’s military leadership.
Defence Minister Shoigu held onto his post and Gerasimov, chief of the general staff, on Monday made his first reappearance since the mutiny in a televised clip shared by the ministry of defence.
In the video officials briefed Gerasimov on a Ukrainian attempt to strike Russia and the annexed Crimean peninsula on Sunday.
General Viktor Afzalov told Gerasimov that Russia’s air defence downed three Ukrainian S-200 missiles.
Uncertainty remains over the fate of Sergei Surovikin, the commander of Russia’s aerospace forces, who is perceived as being sympathetic to Wagner.
The footage released Monday did not show Surovikin, who officially remains Gerasimov’s deputy.