Source: The Guardian
The Kremlin has said the Wagner group head, Yevgeny Prigozhin, met Vladimir Putin on 29 June, five days after his mercenary fighters marched towards Moscow in an aborted rebellion.
The Russian president’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters that Putin invited 35 senior Wagner commanders including Prigozhin to the Kremlin, adding that the meeting lasted three hours.
The Kremlin’s statements reveal Prigozhin has travelled to Russia at least once since the deal brokered by the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, under which the warlord abandoned his military march on Moscow in exchange for safe passage to exile in Belarus.
According to Peskov, Prigozhin assured Putin during the meeting that his Wagner troops were loyal to the country and the Russian president.
“The commanders outlined their version of what happened [on 24 June]. They emphasised that they are staunch supporters of the head of state … and also said that they were ready to continue to fight for their homeland,” Peskov said.
Peskov did not comment on Prigozhin’s current whereabouts, which remain unclear.
Last week, Lukashenko said Prigozhin was in St Petersburg despite Peskov stressing that the deal under which Prigozhin relocated to Belarus “remained relevant”.
Prigozhin’s meeting in the Kremlin suggests he still enjoys some leverage in Russia and is probably seen as a valuable asset, despite having brought the country to the brink of civil war last month.
While Putin has ordered all Wagner soldiers to sign a contract with the regular army or leave for Belarus, thousands of armed Wagner members are still based in eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Russia’s defence ministry released a video showing Russia’s top general, Valery Gerasimov, ordering subordinates to target Ukrainian missile sites, his first public appearance since Prigozhin’s failed mutiny.
Rumours have been swirling among Russian military bloggers that the Kremlin has sidelined Gerasimov, a veteran Russian commander whose resignation was one of Prigozhin’s core demands during his rebellion.
But judging by footage released on Monday as well as a separate video last week, Putin has kept his two most influential military men, the defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, and Gerasimov, in their positions.
However, the Kremlin remains quiet on the fate of Sergei Surovikin, another top commander who has not been seen in public since the mutiny.
According to several media reports, Surovikin, who is known to have a good relationship with Prigozhin, was being interrogated at an undisclosed location over his links to the warlord.
In the video released on Monday, Gerasimov is seen listening to a report by Viktor Afzalov, the deputy in the aerospace forces to Surovikin, further fuelling speculation that the Kremlin continues to detain the influential general.