Putin confirms that he received Prigozhin after the riot

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he offered the Wagner private military company the option of continuing to serve as a single unit under his same commander after their short-lived rebellion.

Putin’s comments appeared to reflect his efforts to secure the loyalty of Wagner’s mercenaries, some of the most capable Russian forces in Ukraine, following the group’s brief revolt last month, which posed the gravest threat to his rule, from 23 years.

The fate of Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin remains unclear since the June 23-24 armed rebellion and new cracks have appeared in the Russian military as the war progresses into its 17th month and Ukraine presses a counter-offensive against the invading forces.

In comments published in the Kommersant business daily on Friday, Putin described for the first time an event in the Kremlin attended by 35 Wagner commanders, including Prigozhin, on June 29, five days after the rebellion. He said he praised his efforts in Ukraine, deplored his participation in the mutiny, which he previously denounced as an act of treason, and offered them alternatives for future service.

Putin told Kommersant that one option would be for Wagner to keep the same commander who wears the call sign “Gray Hair” and has led the private army in Ukraine for 16 months. The commander, Andrei Troshev, is a retired military officer who has played a prominent role at Wagner since its inception in 2014 and faced European Union sanctions over his role in Syria as the group’s chief executive.

“All of them could have gathered in one place and continued to serve,” Putin told the newspaper, “and nothing would have changed for them. They would have been led by the same person who had been their true commander all along.”

Putin said that many of Wagner’s troops nodded approval of the proposal, but Prigozhin, who was sitting in front and did not see his reaction, quickly rejected it, replying that “the guys will not agree to such a decision.”

Putin did not mention where and in what numbers Wagner’s mercenaries might be deployed under his offer, nor did he say which proposal, if any, the forces ultimately accepted. He did not say anything about the role of Prigozhin.

Days ago, the Russian president had said that Wagner’s troops had to choose whether to sign contracts with the Defense Ministry, move to neighboring Belarus or withdraw from service.

In remarks to Kommersant yesterday, Putin emphasized that “Wagner’s rank and file have fought with honour” in Ukraine, adding that “it is a matter of regret that they have been dragged” into mutiny.

Putin’s comments were for a Kommersant reporter who has special access to the president. They appeared to be part of efforts to denigrate Prigozhin, to try to maintain control over Wagner’s mercenaries, and to ensure his loyalty.

Putin previously denied any link between the government and Wagner, acknowledging after the riot that Prigozhin’s company has received billions of dollars from the state. He said investigators would track down whether any of the funds had been stolen, a warning to Prigozhin that he could face financial crime.

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