Putin Says Wagner Can Fight Russia, But Without Prigozhin

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Three weeks after the brief rebellion in Russia by Wagner’s mercenary group, President Vladimir V. Putin said that his troops could continue to fight, but without their controversial leader, while the government of Belarus said that some of Wagner’s soldiers were there, training his troops.

The fate of Wagner and his staff, who contributed greatly to Mr. disharmony and chaos in the ranks of the Russian army which had been exposed to the public since the rebellion. But the Russian leader made it clear that he wanted to leave Wagner’s boss Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, who led the coup.

mr. Putin, in interview published late on Thursday, gave the story of a a three-hour meeting in the Kremlin, a few days after the murder, Mr. Prigozhin and his senior officers. Putin’s father, who has worked hard since the coup to ensure that he has unchallenged control over state affairs, portrayed himself in interviews as an opponent of the uprising, and portrayed the rebellion as a minor internal dispute that he had resolved.

He also said that he praised Wagner’s soldiers for their military actions, and suggested that another Wagner leader should take over Mr. Prigozhin’s role, according to Kommersant, a Russian business daily that, along with a reporter from state television, attended the meeting. . He said he told Wagner’s soldiers that he “regretted being involved” in the crime, apparently blaming Mr. Prigozhin.

“I explained to them the methods they can use in the future, including war,” Putin said. “Many nodded when I spoke,” he added, but Mr. Prigozhin, who said he was sitting in front and did not see the shaking, replied that “the boys do not agree with such a decision.”

The government has ordered that Wagner soldiers who want to continue fighting must sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense, then they will be part of the regular Russian army, which Mr. Prigozhin strongly opposed. But Putin’s recent comments seem to leave open the possibility that they will continue to be Wagner units.

Mr. Putin wants to make a big difference between Wagner’s fighters, whose skills are skills he can use, and the mercenary leader who he now sees as careless and untrustworthy, according to Tatiana Stanovaya, an anonymous expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“They want to keep the Wagner foundation but under a different leadership, one that is more reliable, and more manageable,” said Ms. Stanovaya in a phone interview.

“That meeting was a sign of reconciliation; not in the sense that the conflict is over, but in the sense that now there are rules of the game – you have to follow them,” he added.

Kremlin spokesman first revealed the meeting earlier this week, saying that Wagner’s officials had expressed their concerns – a remarkable admission considering that days earlier, Putin had denounced the leaders of the coup as traitors.

President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, who helped put an end to Wagner’s uprising on June 24, said soon after that his country would receive the fighters, and the Belarusian army quickly set up tents for thousands of soldiers on an unused site nine kilometers from . the town of Asipovichy, about 50 kilometers southeast of the capital Minsk. But last week, Mr. Lukashenko said that there were no Wagner soldiers in Belarus, and soldiers invited the foreign press to the camp to show that it was not there.

On Friday, however, the Ministry of Defense of Belarus said that Wagner’s soldiers were instructing members of the Belarusian armed forces to protect and fight. A video on state television shows what its reporter said is training with Wagner fighters “at a training camp near Asipovichy,” but the cooperation of the soldiers in the video has not been independently confirmed. A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense confirmed that part of the video was taken at the same location as the new tent camp.

Mr. Lukashenko, a close confidant and subordinate of Mr. Putin, has made it clear that he wants to have an army as experienced as Wagner’s. In late June, in comments broadcast on state television, he urged his defense minister, Viktor Khrenin, to make good use of the opportunity.

“They will tell you about the equipment – what worked well, what didn’t,” said Mr. Lukashenko. “And tactics, and weapons, and how to attack, how to defend. They’re precious.”

Mr Prigozhin said his rebellion was not aimed at overthrowing Putin, but by removing military leaders from Moscow he spent months criticizing them for not speaking profanities that the president had tolerated. After sending siege weapons to the capital, he abandoned them after being assured that he and Wagner’s army would not be punished.

Pentagon he said on Thursday that Wagner’s troops no longer believe that they are fighting a major war in Ukraine. And the Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that Wagner fighters had left behind most of their weapons and ammunition.

With the military seemingly ineffective and underarmed, the Kremlin has been trying to downplay the role of its recalcitrant leader. Mr. Prigozhin’s press, including several news sites, was closed, and his mansion in St. medicine.

There have also been signs of a shake-up that strengthens the power of the military that Prigozhin hated. Gen. Sergei V. Surovikin, the head of the Russian air force and the head of the Ukrainian army, who was seen as a friend of Prigozhin, is said to have already known about the rebellion and has not been seen in public since then; The top lawmaker said this week that the executive is “resting.”

On Wednesday night, the recording was announced for Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov accuses his superiors of interfering with the military operation by fraud, and telling his soldiers that he has been there. excluded from the law the Russian military in Ukraine for daring to tell the truth about the brutality of the war. Some leaders are said to have been interrogated or detained, at least briefly.

So far the chaos does not appear to have helped Ukraine’s military as they fight to take part in the slow-moving war that began in early June.

Russia has launched several waves of airstrikes on Ukrainian cities in recent days, including Friday morning, and continues to bombard cities within military range. Ukrainian authorities said on Friday that they had fired 16 of the 17 in one night.

Mr. Putin has identified as the likely new leader of Wagner a man known as “Sedoi,” or “The Hairy One,” who the president said was the real leader of Wagner’s forces since the Ukrainian invasion of Ukraine last year. European Union sanctions documentsAssociated with Wagner bloggersand Russian media supplies they find out that Sedoi is Andrei N. Troshev, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Penalty records to be mentioned to Mr. Troshev as a “founding member” and “chief conductor” of Wagner.

Mr Putin still has a vague idea about Wagner’s future, apparently leaving his options open. A few days later the terrorist, said that Russia was paid Wagner about $1 billion in one year, but in an interview with Kommersant, he said that Wagner “does not exist,” at least legally.

“We don’t have a law on military organizations,” Putin said. “There is no official organization like this.”

Valerie Hopkins contributed reports.

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