Jun 26, 2023 - World

Wagner boss claims he wasn't trying to overthrow Russian government

Yevgeny Prigozhin in June 2016

Yevgeny Prigozhin in June 2016. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The Wagner Group's short-lived rebellion over the weekend was not intended to overthrow the Russian government, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed in his first remarks since the uprising ended.

Driving the news: Prigozhin defended what he had called a "march of justice," saying it was intended to prevent the destruction of Wagner and protest against the way the war in Ukraine has been conducted, which he claimed to include a "huge number of mistakes."

  • Prigozhin also claimed that Wagner was forced to respond to what he claimed were missile and helicopter attacks on its mercenaries — a claim the Russian military denied.
  • "They regret being forced to attack the army aircraft but the bombs were dropped which caused the response," Prigozhin said.
  • The mercenary boss called off Wagner's advance toward Moscow Saturday after striking a deal, brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, that allowed him to go to Belarus and avoid prosecution.

The big picture: Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear he supported a push by Russian military officials to get all private military companies to sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense by July 1, Reuters reported.

  • The move would more closely integrate Wagner under the ministry's command structure, effectively limiting Prigozhin's political and military influence.
  • Wagner was effectively slated to cease existence on July 1, Prigozhin said on Monday.

State of play: Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said this weekend that Wagner troops who did not take part in the rebellion would be able to sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense.

  • Yet, Prigozhin claimed that his forces had largely refused to do so, with only 1% to 2% agreeing to join the Russian army. Axios is not able to verify Prigozhin's claims.
  • Prigozhin praised the effectiveness and training of his fighters, noting that if the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine had been conducted by "forces as trained as Wagner, the special operation could have ended in one day."
  • Wagner has been instrumental in Russia's operations in Ukraine, especially in the monthslong brutal battle in Bakhmut.
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