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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Putin Affirms Unified Support in Russia After Suppressing Rebellion

On Monday, Vladimir V. Putin defended his reaction to the mutiny and hinted at leniency for those who took part, stating that “the entire Russian society united” behind his administration, but he also blasted as “blackmail” a revolt by the Wagner mercenary organisation over the weekend.

Mr. Putin’s statement on Monday night was his first public appearance in two days, but he still avoided mentioning Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the Wagner boss who orchestrated the uprising. There was no mistaking his disdain for those who had threatened civil war and derailed Russia’s military effort in Ukraine, where Ukrainian soldiers are counterattacking.

The Kremlin had spent the day trying to make it seem like business as usual, despite the fact that Mr. Putin was staying out of the spotlight after what may be the worst crisis of his two decades in power. When the Russian leader did make an appearance, he avoided answering many of the concerns that had been raised by the uprising. Instead, the central theme of his brief address on Monday was his conviction that his administration represents a unified front in the face of any adversary.

According to a Kremlin official, Mr. Prigozhin agreed to go into exile in Belarus rather than face punishment as part of the deal that suddenly halted the mutiny on Saturday, with Wagner troops boasting that they had gotten within 125 miles of Moscow. Putin has said that Wagner fighters who do not want to enlist in the regular Russian military might also join the Wagner.

After giving his speech, he was seen calling a meeting of his cabinet members to consider a response to the incident. In attendance were the ministries of defence and interior, as well as the prosecutor general and the heads of the security agencies and the National Guard.

Mr. Prigozhin, until recently a major supporter of Mr. Putin, claimed the government was attempting to destroy Wagner and that it would essentially have to dissolve by this coming Saturday in an 11-minute, stream-of-consciousness voice message shared on the messaging app Telegram on Monday.

Mr. Prigozhin slammed the Russian military officials once again in his audio message from Monday, accusing them of striking his soldiers as they were prepared to hand up their heavy weapons.

Mr. Prigozhin’s whereabouts and future treatment under a regime that criminalises any forms of protest, much alone armed revolt, were unknown. Despite the Kremlin’s assurances that he would be free to leave the country, various state-controlled media sites reported on Monday that he was still under investigation and may be prosecuted.

It was also unclear what would become of his tens of thousands of warriors, who were some of Russia’s most experienced and brutally effective forces in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Wagner’s semi-independence comes to an end on July 1 when all irregular forces operating on Russia’s behalf in Ukraine are compelled by law to sign contracts with the Defence Ministry. It is unclear how many irregular forces have or will comply with this requirement.

Despite Mr. Prigozhin’s stinging critique of the defence minister’s handling of the conflict, Russia published a silent video of Sergei K. Shoigu on Monday to send the sense that business as usual was continuing.

There seems to have been little change on the battlefields of Ukraine, where Kyiv’s troops are preparing a counteroffensive to regain territory captured last year by Russia, but some American officials and Western commentators have argued Russia’s military might suffer as a consequence of events inside Russia.

However, Franz-Stefan Gady, a consulting senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that the repercussions of the mutiny were still too vague to be accurately assessed at this time. According to him, neither the number of Russian troops nor the pace at which they shoot have dropped on the front lines.

It seems that Putin has sided with Shoigu and the generals after the Defence Ministry issued the instruction earlier this month mandating that irregular troops register with the military. This order has been enforced despite Mr. Prigozhin’s vehement objections and unwillingness to cooperate.

The world watched in horror as the country with the most nuclear weapons seemed to be rocked by instability. On Saturday, Mr. Putin threatened individuals who “consciously chose the path of betrayal” with the heaviest penalty possible.

Wagner’s soldiers, however, paused when Belarus’s president and Putin friend, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, acted as a mediator. Reportedly returning to their camps in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine, Wagner soldiers departed from Rostov-on-Don and the route to Moscow.

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