Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu appeared in video for the first time since the Wagner Group, a private military operating on Russia’s behalf, began an ostensible attempted coup late Friday.
In a video posted by the Russian Defense Ministry on Monday, Shoigu is depicted in a helicopter before visiting troops in Ukraine. Shoigu was a prime target of the Wagner rebellion, which accused him of botching the Russia-Ukraine war, according to NBC News. It is unclear when the video was filmed, and comes after hostilities between Wagner and Russian President Vladimir Putin subsided Saturday.
Vladimir Putin’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is seen visiting combat troops in Ukraine, in footage released by the Russian Defense Ministry
— Bloomberg TV (@BloombergTV) June 26, 2023
Wagner’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, blamed Shoigu for starting the war in Ukraine and accused him of taking credit for Wagner’s victories. In a video posted to Telegram on Friday – the day of the revolt – Prigozhin accused Shoigu of pouring fuel on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict for his own political gain. (RELATED: Russian Private Military Contractor In ‘March Of Justice’ Claims His Troops Seized Military Headquarters)
“The Defense Ministry is trying to deceive society and the president and tell us a story about how there was crazy aggression from Ukraine and that they were planning to attack us with the whole of NATO,” said Prigozhin in the video. “What was the point of the war? The war was needed… so that Shoigu could become a marshal … so that he could get a second ‘Hero’ [of Russia] medal. The war wasn’t needed to demilitarise or denazify Ukraine.”
Shoigu’s public appearance comes amidst speculation that Putin would replace some of his military brass after the rebellion. He has served as defense minister since 2012 and is considered one of Putin’s closest allies, according to NBC.
Shortly after Prigozhin posted his video on Friday, videos depicted military vehicles leaving the defense ministry in Moscow, and Wagner forces reportedly took over the military headquarters of Rostov-on-Don just hours later. Putin released a statement hours into the morning of Saturday, warning that those who chose to “betray” Russia would suffer “inevitable punishment.”
“We will protect both our people and our statehood from any threats. Including — from internal betrayal,” said Putin. “Those who organized this military uprising, who raised arms against their fellow military comrades will answer for it.”
Wagner forces moved towards Moscow on Saturday afternoon but backed down that evening after Prigozhin called off the attack. He has not been seen since the rebellion ended.
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