Putin Met With Mercenary Leader Who Tried To Topple Him

(Photo by NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images)

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with former military contractor Yevgeny Prigozhin five days after the rogue mercenary began a march on Moscow in June, the Kremlin confirmed Monday.

Putin invited 35 people, including several commanders of the Prigozhin’s Wagner Group private military company, on June 29 for a nearly three-hour conference on June 29, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said Monday in a statement carried by Russian state-run TASS. Participants discussed events of days prior, when Prigozhin led Wagner rebels to seize a Russian military headquarters in a strategic southern town and commenced a short-lived march on Moscow apparently aimed at ousting the Russian defense minister.

“The president did hold such a meeting,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said, according to TASS.(RELATED: Mike Pence Makes Unnanounced Trip To Ukraine)

“We are unaware of the details, but the one thing we can say is that the president gave his assessment of the [private military] company’s actions on the frontline during the special military operation and the June 24 events,” spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said, according to TASS.

Proghozin had not been seen publicly since the June 24 revolt. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed to have brokered a deal in which Putin would offer amnesty for the alleged “traitors” in exchange for Prigozhin’s exile to Belarus, The New York Times reported.

It’s unclear if the mercenary leader, formerly considered an ally of Putin’s, ever crossed into Belarus; Lukashenko and Russian media reports claim he has remained in Russia, according to the NYT.

“Putin listened to explanations from [Wagner] commanders and offered them further options for employment and further use in combat,” Peskov said, TASS reported. “The commanders themselves shared their version of what happened.”

Wagner squad leaders who participated in the revolt emphasized their continued support for Putin as head of state and commander-in-chief and “also said that they are ready to continue fighting for the Fatherland,” the spokesperson continued.

Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin shows Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin his school lunch factory outside Saint Petersburg on September 20, 2010. - Kremlin-linked businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin has filed a lawsuit in an EU court to remove him from the bloc's sanctions list, his company said on December 15, 2020. The European Union in October sanctioned Prigozhin -- nicknamed "Putin's chef" because his company Concord has catered for the Kremlin -- accusing him of undermining peace in Libya by supporting the Wagner Group private military company.

Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin shows Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin his school lunch factory outside Saint Petersburg on September 20, 2010.  (Photo by ALEXEY DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

Wagner Group mercenaries scattered along the front lines in Ukraine for months but concentrated in Bakhmut, where they constituted the bulk of the fighters in a grinding months-long battle over the city. Putin has claimed the group is fully state-funded, according to CNN.

Moscow’s Federal Security Service (FSB) opened, then dropped, a criminal investigation into Prigozhin and other Wagner Group rebels despite Putin’s pledge those on the “path of treason” would face punishment, CNN reported.

Prigozhin characterized the revolt as a “march of justice” after claiming the Russian military killed some of his men in an airstrike.

However, Putin has not moved to depose Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu or Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the commander in charge of Moscow’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, Reuters reported. Both individuals have recently appeared on state-run TV broadcasts.

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