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Wagner warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin resurfaced Monday to issue an impassioned defense of his mutiny against Russia’s army chiefs over the weekend and said Belarus was offering ways for his mercenary group’s “continued work.”

The Wagner chief led an uprising against Vladimir Putin’s regular army from Friday night, declaring war on the military establishment, seizing the major southern city of Rostov and sending his mercenary forces on a “march” to Moscow during which their armored vehicles ended up 200 kilometers from the capital, before abruptly standing down his men Saturday evening. 

The abortive dash for Moscow fizzled out after an intervention by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, who seemed to strike a deal in which the mutineers would be spared prosecution as long as Prigozhin went to Minsk and Wagner troops laid down their weapons or joined regular Russian forces.

By Monday, however, the terms of the deal were still hazy. Russian state media said Prigozhin was still liable for prosecution, and the warlord’s whereabouts were unclear. In an audio statement, Prigozhin gave no indication that Wagner was being wound up, defending his troops as a crack force and saying that Lukashenko was open to allowing them stay operational in Belarus.

“Wagner is likely the most experienced and combat-ready formation in Russia — and possibly in the world,” he said. “At this time, Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko extended his hand and offered to find solutions for the continued work of Wagner PMC within a legal jurisdiction.”

Prigozhin has for months insisted his main grievance was with Russia’s military top brass, whom he accused of incompetence and failing to support his frontline soldiers. On Monday dissolving Wagner did not sound like an option and Prigozhin slammed Russian army commanders’ “intrigues and ill-conceived decisions” that would have forced his troops to sign contracts with the defense ministry, effectively ending their autonomy.

Master class

Indeed — in a swipe at the regular forces’ bungled invasion of Ukraine last year — he argued Wagner “delivered a master class in how the operation on February 24, 2022, should have looked.”

He cast his U-turn on Saturday evening as a selfless act to avoid a bloodbath, and hit back at the suggestion he was trying to pull off a coup.

“We did not have the goal of overthrowing the existing regime and legally elected power. We turned around so as not to spill the blood of Russian soldiers.”

“We stopped when it became clear that a lot of blood would flow,” Prigozhin said in the statement posted on his Telegram channel.

“The demonstration of what we could do was sufficient. Our decision to return was driven by two factors. One, that we did not want Russian blood to flow. The second factor was that we went to demonstrate our protest, and not to overthrow the government of the country.”

Prigozhin, responding to a deluge of requests for comment from journalists, repeated allegations his forces come under rocket fire and helicopter attacks ordered by Russia’s own top generals. “We regret that we were forced to fire on military aircraft but these aircraft were dropping bombs and firing missiles at us,” he said.

Prigozhin gave no indication as to his whereabouts in his statement, which ran to 11 minutes 23 seconds. Belarusian state media cited online speculation that he was staying at the Green City Hotel in Minsk which, according to its website, charges $50 for a double room.

The hotel receptionist declined to confirm whether Prigozhin was staying there: “According to the rules approved by the Green City Hotel, information about hotel guests is confidential,” she wrote in an email.


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