Within hours ahead of Putin‘s big speech Monday evening, the Kremlin touted there would be several “major” announcements, but there was really nothing earth-shattering. In fact, much of the fairly short address to the nation on the Wagner rebellion was a reiteration of prior Kremlin statements, and it didn’t exactly appear ‘tough’.
While Putin stressed that “traitors will face justice” and that “we defeated a colossal threat” – he at the same time seemed to offer a bit of an olive branch. “At the same time we knew and know that the vast majority of the fighters and commanders of the Wagner group are also patriots of Russia, devoted to their people and the state,” Putin said. He said Wagner fighters could sign contracts with the Russian army.
“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. Anyone who wants to can go to Belarus,” he said of the mutineers. “The promise I made will be fulfilled. I repeat the choice is yours, but I am sure it will be the choice of Russian soldiers who have realized their tragic mistake.”
And yet at this moment the FSB and Russian Prosecutor’s Office have made statements implying the criminal case for treason is still open against Prigozhin, who is presumably now in Belarus. And more from the Putin speech:
Mr Putin claimed mutiny was “resolutely rejected by society”, and that he directly ordered that “steps were taken to avoid a lot of bloodshed”, as he praised Russian pilots apparently shot down by Wagner mercenaries for having “saved Russia from tragic devastating consequences”.
“I thank all our military personnel, law enforcement officers, special services who stood in the way of the rebels, remained faithful to their duty, oath and their people,” the Russian president said. Putin looked very serious and angry during the short speech:
⚡️Full video of Vladimir Putin’s address to the citizens of Russia pic.twitter.com/2QKyB2FB0q— War Monitor (@WarMonitors) June 26, 2023
Just prior to Putin’s speech, President Biden issued a statement in a presser saying that the US and its allies had “nothing to do” with the rebellion.
“They agreed with me that we had to make sure we gave Putin no excuse — let me emphasize, we gave Putin no excuse — to blame this on the West, to blame this on NATO,” Biden said. “We made clear that we were not involved. We had nothing to do with it. This was part of a struggle within the Russian system.” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday that the message was delivered to the Russians through various diplomatic channels.
“We also made clear to all our allies and partners that the United States was not involved and would not get involved in these events, and that we view them as internal Russian matters,” Kirby said at the White House press briefing. “We delivered that same message to the Russians themselves through appropriate diplomatic channels.”
While Moscow has yet to attempt a direct linkage between Wagner’s actions and Western intelligence, FM Lavrov did issue this stinging rebuke on Monday, which is at least an insinuation:
The US enthusiastically supports regime change whenever it can benefit from the process, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has told RT. If a protest movement targets a government more pliant to American interests, Washington will inevitably reject it, the diplomat added.
There have been numerous attempts at regime change around the world in recent years and they were “met with a different response on the part of the US, depending on who was in power and who was trying to carry out the coup,” Lavrov said in an interview on Monday.
“Where the West is happy with the current government, in such situations no protest can be legitimate. But where the government doesn’t reflect the interests of the hegemon and is pursuing the national interests, in those cases we see various unlawful forces are being stimulated [to attack the authorities],” the diplomat added.
Putin in his speech said something similar, specifically suggesting Ukraine and Russia’s enemies “wanted” this: “It was precisely this outcome – fratricide – that Russia’s enemies wanted: both the neo-Nazis in Kyiv, and their Western patrons, and all sorts of national traitors.”
“They wanted Russian soldiers to kill each other so that military personnel and civilians would die, so that in the end Russia would lose, and our society would split, choke in bloody civil strife. They rubbed their hands, dreaming of taking revenge for their failures at the front and during the so-called counteroffensive, but they miscalculated.”
The only guy who looks happy to be at the Putin security meeting is Pavel Zarubin, the state TV reporter pic.twitter.com/zucRS5NxOo— max seddon (@maxseddon) June 26, 2023
Currently, Ukraine has claimed some degree of gains but still has largely failed to exploit the Wagner situation and Russian internal discord when it comes to any serious frontline advance.