"It was not a military coup": the leader of the Wagner Group breaks his silence on the march of mercenaries to Moscow at the weekend

June 26, 2023, 1:35 PM

June 26, 2023, 1:35 PM

Yevgeny Prigozhin

Getty Images
The leader of the Wagner Group published an audio on Telegram this Monday.

The leader of the Wagner mercenary group, who led a stunning military march from Ukraine to Moscow on Saturday, broke the silence about his fleeting rebellion against the Russian army.

Yevgeny Prigozhin released a statement on Monday through an 11-minute audio on a Telegram channel.

In the message he said that started walking before the plans of the Russian Defense Ministry for your business to “cease to exist” next month.

“The goal of the march was prevent Wagner’s destruction and hold to account officials who, through their unprofessional actions, have made a large number of mistakes,” he said in his message.

“We are not marching to overthrow the leadership of Russia”he assured.

The crisis began between Friday and Saturday, when Prigozhin called for an uprising against the Russian army.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the call for rebellion as a “betrayal” and called the troop movement “a stab in the back.”

After hours of tension with the Russian army, Prigozhin announced the withdrawal of Wagner’s militiamen to their barracks and since then it has only been known that he had left Russia through the Belarusian border.

Vladimir Putin

EPA
President Putin called Wagner’s actions on Saturday “a stab in the back.”

Prigozhin has been one of Russia’s top military figures and a Putin ally for years.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began in February last year, it has acted on the war fronts to secure Ukrainian territories in favor of Moscow.

Does Wagner cease to exist?

In the audio broadcast this Monday, Prigozhin insisted that the objective of his march to Moscow was not “a military coup” but “a march for justice.”

He announced that his mercenary company was doomed to cease to exist on July 1 because of the Kremlin’s plans.

He also expressed regret for “having attacked Russian aircraft.” He explained that he gave the order to fall back “to avoid spilling the blood of Russian soldiers.”

“We were on a march to show our protest, not to overthrow the government”said.

Speaking about the terms of the deal that was supposedly made to stop the rebellion, Prigozhin noted that the group was “categorically against the decision to close Wagner on July 1, 2023 and incorporate it into the Ministry of Defense“.

The commanders refused to accept the request to sign contracts with the Russian Defense Ministry, he said.

On the contrary, he claims that around 30 of his men “were killed by Russian attacks”.

The BBC cannot corroborate this claim.

Members of the Wagner Group arrived in Rostov-on-Don in the early hours of Saturday.

Reuters
Members of the Wagner Group arrived in Rostov-on-Don in the early hours of Saturday.

Prigozhin also said that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko played a role in the deal with Moscow.

“He reached out his hand and offered to find ways for Wagner to continue his work legally,” the Wagner leader said without elaborating.

Since the withdrawal on Saturday, his whereabouts have not been revealed and in the audio message he did not offer details about it.

Various reports suggest that, as part of the deal with Moscow, Prigozhin agreed to go to Belarus.

“Security problems” in Russia

In recent weeks, Prigozhin has been highly critical of Russia’s security forces, and this was reflected in his audio message.

He indicated that his march to Moscow on Saturday revealed “more serious security problems throughout the country”and claimed that his units managed to block “all” Russian military units and airfields in their path.

According to what he said, he had the support of the towns through which he passed during his short rebellion in which his forces traveled 780km.

That distance is equivalent to what Russian forces traveled on February 24 last year, when they launched their invasion of Ukraine.

For Prigozhin, if forces like Wagner’s troops had carried out that first attack of 2022, “the special military operation in Ukraine” would have ended much sooner.

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