Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the Wagner mercenary chief and his fighters just days after they threatened to topple the country’s military leadership and marched on Moscow, the Kremlin said Monday.
Yevgeny Prigozhin and top commanders at the Wagner Group met Putin in the Kremlin on June 29, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said during his daily call with reporters.
The meeting lasted almost three hours, he said, and some 35 people attended.
Prigozhin and other Wagner members did not comment publicly on the meeting and the Kremlin's version of events couldn't be confirmed.
It’s the first time that the Kremlin has talked about an in-person meeting between Putin and the man who presented the first real challenge to the Russian president’s two-decade rule. The fate and exact whereabouts of the Wagner chief remained a mystery after he was supposedly sent into exile to neighboring ally, Belarus, as part of a deal negotiated by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
The purported deal aborted Prigozhin’s short-lived mutiny attempt, which Putin called “treason” and “a stab in the back.” Western analysts said it showed cracks in Putin’s grasp on power, and weakened his authority.
Peskov said he did not know the details of what exactly was discussed in the meeting, but said Putin “gave an assessment” of Wagner’s actions on the front lines in Ukraine, where the well-trained and armed force has been one of Russia’s strongest strategic assets, and the events that happened June 24, when the mutiny attempt took place.
He said Putin listened to “explanations” by Wagner commanders about what happened that day and offered them further options of employment and use in combat.
Wagner commanders also presented their own version of events on the day of the mutiny, Peskov added, emphasizing that they were “staunch supporters and soldiers of the head of state and the supreme commander in chief,” referring to Putin.
It’s not clear why the Kremlin decided to publicize the meeting, which happened nearly two weeks ago now, but it has been trying to project a sense of order and unity weeks after the mutiny saw Prigozhin’s fighters get to just more than 100 miles of Moscow.
Prigozhin’s revolt failed to substantially divide Russian society and did not see any high-profile political or military figures switch to his side. Since then, Prigozhin has been battered by Kremlin-controlled state media as a self-centered traitor, while Putin had received praise for ending the mutiny and “unifying” the nation.