The Russian leader acknowledges that the country was on the brink of internal conflict following the mutiny orchestrated by Wagner leader Prigozhin, now exiled in Belarus

Putin praises Russian army for avoiding "civil war"

SPUTNIK/SERGEI GUNEEEV - El presidente ruso, Vladimir Putin, guarda un minuto de silencio por los pilotos muertos durante los enfrentamientos con los mercenarios de Wagner
SPUTNIK/SERGEI GUNEEEV - Russian President Vladimir Putin observes a minute's silence for pilots killed during clashes with Wagner mercenaries

Russia came dangerously close to civil war last weekend. There were tense moments on Saturday as Wagner troops advanced towards Moscow following threats from their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who rose up against the national army after months of rifts in Ukraine.

Concern reigned in the country. But a possible internal conflict also raised concerns in Europe and around the world, as a civil war in a nuclear-armed nation could pose a direct threat to international security.

PHOTO/REUTERS - There were tense moments on Saturday as Wagner troops advanced towards Moscow 

However, despite the great challenge posed to the Kremlin by Prigozhin and his mercenaries, Russian President Vladimir Putin managed to reach an agreement - brokered by Belarus - with his former ally. The so-called 'Putin's chef' has had to go into exile in Belarus, in exchange for which the criminal case against him will be closed. To Wagner's fighters, Putin offered three options: join the ranks of the Russian army, return home or follow Prigozhin's path and move to the neighbouring country. "The vast majority of Wagner members are patriots," the president said in a televised speech after the military uprising.

With calm now restored and Prigozhin in Belarus, Putin has turned to the armed forces to thank them for their efforts to "stop a civil war" at a military event in the Kremlin.

"The people and the army were not on the side of the mutineers," Putin assured soldiers and military leaders, including Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. "You prevented civil war, acting correctly and in a coordinated manner in a difficult situation," Putin said.

The Russian president also made reference to Ukraine during his speech, noting that it was not necessary to "withdraw combat detachments" in the neighbouring country to deal with Wagner's rapid advance towards Moscow.

After the speech, a minute's silence was observed in memory of the Russian pilots killed during the clashes with Wagner. "They carried out their orders and their military duty with honour," Putin stressed. 

SPUTNIK/SERGEI GUNEEEV - "The people and the army were not on the side of the mutineers," Putin assured soldiers and military leaders

Putin acknowledges that the state financed Wagner

The Wagner group, made up of mercenaries and ex-convicts and accused of war crimes in countries such as Ukraine, Syria and Libya, has been financed by the Russian state coffers. Putin confirmed this during the military event in Moscow. "The maintenance of the Wagner group was fully covered by the state, by the Ministry of Defence," the president admitted, specifying that between May 2022 and May 2023 alone, the Kremlin allocated 86 billion roubles to Prigozhin's private company, which earned 80 billion roubles in one year for supplying food to the Russian army. "We fully fund this group," he stressed. 

AFP/ROMAN ROMOKHOV - Putin acknowledges that the state financed Wagner

This follows Prigozhin's complaints against the Russian Defence Ministry's military elite, whom he accused of looting aid and ammunition. In this regard, Putin has promised to investigate the use of the money earmarked for Wagner. "I hope that no one has stolen anything," he said. 

Lukashenko confirms Prigozhin's arrival in Belarus

Belarusian President and loyal Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko has confirmed Prigozhin's presence in the country, the BELTA news agency reported on its Telegram channel. Lukashenko recalled the "security guarantees" promised by Moscow for the Wagner leader and fighters wishing to move to the country. 

AFP/PATRICIO ARANA Y SABRINA BLANCHARD - Map showing the M4 motorway where Wagner's mercenaries advanced towards the capital

The Belarusian leader has also expressed his desire to take advantage of Wagner's military experience to educate and train Belarusian soldiers. For the time being, Minsk has already offered the mercenaries abandoned military bases, while Defence Minister Viktor Khrennikov has not ruled out the creation of a Wagner-like militia within the Belarusian army. Indeed, Khrennikov - on Lukashenko's orders - is expected to discuss the issue with Prigozhin himself.

Wagner to continue operations in Africa

Despite the recent mutiny, the Russian mercenary group will continue to operate in African countries such as Mali and the Central African Republic, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. "The governments of the Central African Republic and Mali are in official contact with our leaders. At their request, several hundred soldiers were working in CAR as trainers," Lavrov said, confirming that this work "will continue".

The Kremlin's armed wing abroad has strengthened its presence in Africa in recent years, especially in the volatile Sahel region. Feeding anti-French sentiment in the region and taking advantage of the withdrawal of Gallic troops, the paramilitary group has expanded its tentacles in several countries in the region, even entering into defence agreements with governments.

As in many other places, Wagner's presence is linked to war crimes. The group has been accused of attacks against civilians in several regions of Mali and the Central African Republic. "71% of Wagner's involvement in political violence in Mali has taken the form of violence against civilians," notes an ACLED report.