Putin says Russia would have crushed rebellion, vows 'justice' for mutiny organizers

Key Points
  • Vladimir Putin called the organizers of an attempted mutiny over the weekend criminals and said his military would have crushed the uprising anyway.
  • The Russian president's comments were his first since the aborted mutiny of Wagner Group mercenaries who marched on Moscow over the weekend.
  • Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has reportedly been exiled to Belarus.
Russian President Vladimir Putin grimaces during his joint press conference with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune (not pictured) at the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, June 15, 2023.
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WASHINGTON — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday the organizers of an armed mutiny over the weekend will be "brought to justice" and that his military would have put down the rebellion anyway.

The Russian president's comments were his first since hundreds of Wagner Group mercenaries, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, marched on Moscow over the weekend in what appeared to be an armed rebellion against Russia's military leadership.

"This is criminal activity, which is aimed at weakening the country. This was a colossal threat," said Putin in a televised address to the nation.

In exchange for his turning back, a criminal case against Prigozhin was dropped and he was permitted to leave Russia for Belarus. As of Monday afternoon, Prigozhin was believed to be staying in a hotel in Minsk, Belarus, that did not have any windows, according to Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The mutiny took the world by surprise and catapulted a taboo question to center stage across Russia: whether Putin's grip on power might not be as ironclad internally as it looks from the outside.

After they took control of the southern city of Rostov on Saturday, Wagner fighters and hundreds of armored vehicles came within 200 miles of Moscow before Prigozhin ordered them to turn back.

In his speech Monday, Putin thanked those involved in the mutiny "who made the only right decision — they did not go to fratricidal bloodshed, they stopped at the last line."

He then said Wagner Group soldiers would be permitted to join the Russian army, to leave the country for neighboring Belarus, as Prigozhin did, or simply "to return to your family and friends."

Putin's decision to grant unilateral clemency to the Wagner mercenaries seemed out of character to some Russia scholars, coming as it did from an autocratic ruler who regularly jails civilians for publicly criticizing his administration.

Prigozhin has said his goal was never to seize political control of the Kremlin and overthrow Putin, but rather to protest a planned dissolution of his Wagner Group, his private army.