Popular Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin issued his first statement since his aborted weekend march on Moscow, saying Monday that he halted his campaign because he didn’t want to spill Russian blood and because the goal was protest, not regime change.
Prigozhin did not take responsibility for killing more than a dozen pilots and other Russians during his brief revolt, saying they attacked his troops. And he said that, if Russian troop had marched on the first day of the invasion as far as his Wagner troops marched in 24 hours, the war that has stretched to more than 16 months would have ended in one day.
“We started our march because of an injustice,” Prigozhin said in an 11-minute video statement. He said his troops were met with cheering crowds waving the flag of his Wagner Group fighters.
Prigozhin’s march began Friday and ended the next day when a deal was brokered by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. Under the deal Prigozhin would go to Belarus and neither he nor his troops would face treason or other charges. Russia’s RIA Novosti state news agency, however, cited unidentified sources in the Prosecutor General’s office as saying the criminal case against Prigozhin hasn’t been closed.
∙ The Australian government unveiled a $75 million aid package for Ukraine, including 70 military vehicles and humanitarian aid.
∙ Ukraine’s Armed Forces have liberated the village of Rivnopil in the hotly contest Donetsk region, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Monday. It’s the ninth settlement regained since the counteroffensive began about three weeks ago, she said.
∙ Monday marks the one-year anniversary of Operation Interflex, a British-led training program that has trained over 17,000 Ukraine recruits. The goal is to train 30,000 by year’s end. “The determination and resilience of the Ukrainian recruits is humbling to witness,” said British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.
A former Russian diplomat who resigned from his U.N. post last year in protest of the war says Russian President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power had been significantly damaged by the aborted weekend uprising − and that Prigozhin should fear for life despite a deal allowing him to flee to Belarus.
Boris Bondarev made global news in May 2022 when he announced his opposition to the war and defected. He told Australia’s ABC TV in an interview Monday that Putin is likely to seek revenge against Prigozhin for the brief march toward Moscow.
“It damages Putin’s image as a decisive (leader) who might crush anybody,” Bondarev said. “So I believe that Prigozhin has a lot of reasons to be very much concerned about his life now because I don’t think Putin may easily forgive this.”
Bondarev said Putin’s inner circle is shrinking and that most people inside the Kremlin do not support the war. Bondarev, who now lives in Switzerland, says he was not surprised that Prigozhin was able to easily take over military outposts at the start of his march. Russian military leaders are incapable of independent thinking, which Putin views as a threat to his iron-fisted rule, the former diplomat said.
“No initiative, no decision of their own,” he said. “So when a crisis arises, nobody knows what to do. Nobody wants to take any responsibility.”
Russian special services are investigating whether Western intelligence services were involved in the June 24 situation, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday. Lavrov provided no evidence of Western involvement.
Lavrov, in an interview with the Russian media outlet RT, also said U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynn Tracy indicated to Russian officials that Washington had nothing to do with the rebellion. Tracy expressed concern for the safety of U.S. diplomats in Russia and for the security of nuclear weapons, Lavrov said.
“It was especially emphasized that the United States proceeds from the fact that everything that happens is an internal affair of the Russian Federation,” the foreign minister said.
The Russian opposition publication Meduza says Prigozhin’s demands were considered vague and strange by Kremlin officials who negotiated with him in the hours after the ill-fated coup began Friday. Prigozhin wanted Defense Minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu fired, autonomy over Wagner’s affairs and more funding. But after an armed rebellion, there was no longer a place in the system for him, Meduza’ experts said.
The outlet said Prigozhin reportedly tried to call Putin on Saturday, but the president didn’t want to speak with him. Meduza surmised that Prigozhin probably realized that “he’d gone too far” and that the support he expected from rank-and-file Russian soldiers was no materializing.
Contributing: The Associated Press