Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner, the paramilitary group of Russian mercenaries who attempted an armed insurrection against the Russian army and government between Friday and Saturday afternoon, released a long voice message on Telegram speaking publicly for the first time since the end of the uprising. Prigozhin made several comments on the delicate situation Russia is experiencing after the revolt, the consequences of which are still being debated by commentators and analysts.
Most significantly, Prigozhin said the goal of the uprising was not to stage a coup to overthrow President Vladimir Putin (with whom Prigozhin has had a close personal relationship for years).
Prigozhin argued instead that the march on Moscow which began between Friday and Saturday, which had caused great agitation in the Russian government and made many think of an attempted coup d’état, had been organized to prevent the dissolution of the Wagner group, which according to indications of the Russian army it should have integrated into the regular army by July 1st. “We were marching to demonstrate our protest, not to overthrow the government,” he said.
Prigozhin added that in the tens of kilometers traveled the members of the Wagner group did not encounter any resistance from the Russian army and that instead they were cheered and celebrated. However, it is difficult to evaluate this statement as the demonstration of real discontent with Putin’s government: up until before the revolt, therefore up to three days ago, the Russian government itself had in fact celebrated the members of the Wagner group as heroes for their role in the war in Ukraine. It is possible that the celebrations took place without fully understanding what was happening.
Prigozhin’s claims are generally very difficult to verify: both because at the moment they have not been confirmed by other sources, and because the entire Russian establishment is known to systematically lie to public opinion. For the same reasons, the Russian government’s version of Prigozhin’s statements will also have to be taken with a grain of salt.
However, Prigozhin’s 11-minute audio message leaves several questions open: for example, he does not mention the alleged agreement reached between the Russian government and the Wagner group to interrupt the march, and what it specifically envisages. In the message, Prigozhin does not even mention the Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, and the head of the army, Valeri Gerasimov, two leaders of whom Prigozhin would have asked to resign in exchange for the suspension of the march (this is also unconfirmed information). .