The Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday accused Ukraine and its Western allies of wanting Russian fratricidal fighting during the aborted Wagner Group rebellion.
In his first speech since the revolt ended, Putin said he had given orders to avoid bloodshed, and granted amnesty to the Wagner fighters whose rebellion had posed the biggest challenge yet to his two-decade rule.
“Since the events began, measures have been taken on my direct instructions to avoid great bloodshed,” the Russian president said in a televised speech, praising the patriotism of the Russian citizens.
“The fratricidal fight is what Russia’s enemies wanted, both the neo-Nazis in Kiev and their Western patrons, and all kinds of patriotic traitors, wanted Russian soldiers to kill each other,” he added.
Putin also thanked his security officials for their efforts during the armed insurrection in a meeting that included Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the chief enemy of Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.
He continued, “The civil solidarity of the Russian citizens showed that any blackmail and any attempt to stir up internal unrest is doomed to failure.”
“Today you have an opportunity to continue serving Russia by entering into a contract with the Ministry of Defense or other law enforcement agencies, or to return to your families and friends, and anyone who wants to go to Belarus can do so,” Putin said, addressing the Wagner fighters.
Earlier Monday, Prigozhin said in his first audio recording since ending the rebellion, that his goal in sending his fighters towards Moscow was to save his group, which is threatened with dissolution, not to seize power.
In Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said officials were “closely monitoring” unrest in the nuclear-armed nation.
“We’ve had and have been able to have, in real time and through diplomatic channels, conversations with Russian officials about our concerns,” he added.
However, the State Department said Ambassador Lynn Tracy in Moscow had contacted Russian officials to reiterate what we’ve previously said publicly that this is an internal Russian matter and that the United States isn’t and won’t be involved”.
Meanwhile, the fighting continued in Ukraine, where the Kiev forces achieved new victories in their battle to defeat the Russian forces from the east and south of the country, while the authorities of the Russian capital canceled the security measures it had taken during the rebellion.
Prigozhin said his rebellion aimed at preventing Wagner’s dissolution, pointing out that the ease with which his forces advanced towards Moscow revealed serious problems in security.
Prigozhin stopped the rebellion and withdrew from a military headquarters that his fighters controlled in the city of Rostov, and is the war management center in Ukraine, late on Saturday evening, after mediation efforts by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Lukashenko scheduled to talk about the unrest soon, according to what confirmed by a channel close to the presidency on Telegram.
Wagner’s boss said Lukashenko offered him a way to continue Wagner’s activity and not dissolve it.
The extraordinary events on Saturday – including the shooting down of six Wagner helicopters and a command-and-control plane of the Russian army as it advanced, according to Russian sources – are internationally viewed as the most serious security crisis in Russia in decades.
The Kremlin has been under pressure to ensure that things return to normal.
The Wagner Company’s headquarters in St. Petersburg said it was still open and operating, while Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed that the company would continue to operate in Mali and the Central African Republic.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian military leaders confirmed that their forces are making progress in the south and east of the country, and President Volodymyr Zelensky visited to boost the morale of units fighting Russian forces near the city of Bakhmut.
“We’re defeating the enemy from its positions on the outskirts of the city of Bakhmut… Ukraine is regaining its lands… We’re moving forward,” said the commander of the ground force in the east, Oleksandr Sersky.