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We didn't want to overthrow Russian government, says Yevgeny Prigozhin, in first comments since mutiny

Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Monday that a one-day mutiny by his Wagner force had been intended not to overthrow Russia’s government but to register a protest over what he said was its ineffectual conduct of the war in Ukraine.

In his first public comments since ending the mutiny late on Saturday, Prigozhin repeated his frequent claim that Wagner was the most effective fighting force in Russia “and even the world”, and that it put to shame the units that Moscow had sent into Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

He said the way it had been able to seize the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don without bloodshed and to send an armed convoy to within 200 km of Moscow had been testament to the effectiveness of his fighters.

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“We showed a master class, as it should have been on February 24, 2022. We did not have the goal of overthrowing the existing regime and the legally elected government,” he said in an 11-minute audio message released on the Telegram messaging app.

Prigozhin renewed an allegation, so far unsupported by evidence, that the Russian military had attacked a Wagner camp with missiles and then helicopters, killing about 1,000 of its men, and said this had been the immediate trigger for what he called a “march of justice”.

AVERTING BLOODSHED

Wagner stopped its advance towards Moscow at the moment when it realised that it would have to confront waiting Russian troops, and that blood would inevitably be shed, he said, reiterating an assertion he made on Saturday.

Prigozhin, a former close ally of President Vladimir Putin, stressed that Wagner had not spilt a drop of blood on the ground during its northward march, but regretted that his fighters had had to kill Russian servicemen who attacked their convoy from helicopters.

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He also once more complained about a military order that all volunteer units including Wagner are meant to sign by July 1 placing themselves under the control of Russia’s Defence Ministry.

Fewer than 2% of Wagner’s men have signed up, Prigozhin added.

“The aim of the march was to avoid the destruction of Wagner,” he said.

The first armed upris­ing since the 1991 Soviet coup d’état attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev lasted less than 24 hours. Graphic shows steps in Wagner coup attempt. Graphic: Graphic News

In the recording, Prigozhin did not address any of the questions still surrounding the agreement brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko that brought the mutiny to an end.

The Kremlin said on Saturday that the deal had included dropping a criminal case against Prigozhin and his moving to Belarus.

Prigozhin, who was last seen in public being driven in a sport utility vehicle out of Rostov-on-Don on Saturday evening, did not say where he was when he recorded his statement.

Reuters

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