Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, in a nearly 12-minute audio recording, broke his silence after his disappearance and stated that he acted to protect his fighters and not to topple Vladimir Putin.
The mercenary chief whose rebels seized a Russian city and marched toward Moscow over the weekend says he acted to protect his fighters and not to topple Vladimir Putin, according to a recording released on Monday.
Earlier, the Kremlin scrambled to project control and stability, with Putin, his defense chief and prime minister all making business-as-usual appearances, talking about everything from the war in Ukraine to engineering technologies. Restrictions faced by the Russian public were also lifted.
“This unit was supposed to have ended its existence on July 1, 2023,” Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a nearly 12-minute audio recording on his press office’s channel on Telegram, referring to the date by when the Russian defense ministry said all volunteer and mercenary forces had to sign up with the military.
It was the first time that Prigozhin, who did not disclose his location or when he recorded the message, had spoken since he abruptly ended his revolt on Saturday.
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“Experienced fighters, experienced commanders will be simply ‘smeared’ and will basically be used as meat,” he said, using Russian slang for “destroyed,” adding: “We did not have the goal of toppling the existing regime and legitimately-elected government.”
The incident posed the biggest challenge to Putin’s rule in more than 20 years, and followed nearly a year-and-a-half of war in Ukraine, during which beleaguered Russian forces have failed to capture and hold swaths of the country.
The weekend’s events were a stunning escalation in a long-running feud between Prigozhin and the military’s top brass, whom he has repeatedly accused of starving Wagner of weapons and supplies.
Prigozhin also repeated allegations that nearly 30 mercenaries had been killed in Ukraine when a Wagner unit was fired on by the Russian military, which served as a “trigger” for the revolt.
Wagner Chief Yevgeny Prigozhin reveals that 20,000 of his fighters were killed at Bakhmut and says Putin’s war has backfired.