The embattled head of the Wagner Group of Russian mercenaries has reportedly arrived in Belarus to live in exile. Earlier today, the Kremlin said it had dropped criminal charges against Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin after he led a mutiny that saw an armored column advance to within 120 miles of Moscow, in a major test of Vladimir Putin’s rule. On Monday, Prigozhin published his first public statements since calling off the mutiny on Saturday, saying his forces were reacting to an attack by Russia’s military that killed dozens of Wagner fighters.
Yevgeny Prigozhin: “Despite the fact that we did not demonstrate any aggression, a missile strike was launched against us. And helicopters followed suit right after that. About 30 people — Wagner fighters — were killed. This incident served as a trigger which forced the council of Wagner commanders to decide that we had to start the march immediately.”
In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin spoke to Russian soldiers outside the Kremlin earlier today, praising them for their defense of Russia’s capital, which he said “essentially prevented a civil war.” Putin’s remarks followed a short statement on national TV Monday evening in which he accused Wagner’s leaders of treason, but offered the group’s fighters a path to avoid prosecution.
President Vladimir Putin: “I thank those soldiers and commanders of the Wagner Group who made the only right decision. They did not turn to fratricidal bloodshed. They stopped at the last line. Today you have the opportunity to continue serving Russia by entering into a contract with the Ministry of Defense or other law enforcement agencies, or to return to your family and friends. Whoever wants can go to Belarus. The promise I made will be fulfilled.”