Putin says coup almost triggered civil war

The criminal investigation into a popular mercenary leader and thousands of his troops was formally closed Tuesday in the wake of their 36-hour armed revolt, which Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged brought his country to the brink of “civil war.”

The Federal Security Service, or FSB, said the case won’t be pursued because Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner Group fighters “ceased (criminal) activities,” ending an insurgency that revealed deep cracks in Putin’s authoritarian rule.

“Taking into account this and other circumstances relevant to the investigation, the investigative authority issued a resolution to terminate the criminal case on June 27,” the FSB statement said.

Prigozhin, who has made a fortune through military-related companies, halted his march to Moscow on Saturday after the Kremlin agreed not to pursue charges against him or his followers. The FSB announcement came hours after Putin addressed the nation, calling the perpetrators of the uprising “traitors” and “enemies of Russia.”

Earlier Monday, Prigozhin issued his own statement claiming he halted his campaign because he didn’t want to spill Russian blood and because the goal was a protest, not regime change. Prigozhin, under the terms of the deal with the Kremlin, was allowed to leave Russia for neighboring Belarus.

Putin highlights unity against rebellion, blames Wagner leader Prigozhin: Live updates


◾ Two Russian strikes in the Donetsk province city of Kramatorsk killed three people, including a child, and wounded at least 42, the City Council said.

◾ Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday confirmed media reports that Prigozhin had arrived in the country. “Security guarantees … were provided,” Lukashenko said. Prigozhin, 62, has not made a public appearance since Saturday.

◾ The relocation of Prigozhin and possibly thousands of his troops to Belarus is a “negative signal” for Poland, President Andrzej Duda said Tuesday. He urged NATO to strengthen its eastern flank.

◾ Heavy equipment from Prigozhin’s Wagner Group is being transferred to the Russian military, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday. It was not immediately clear what role Prigozhin’s troops, thought to number up to 25,000, will play in the war going forward.

◾ Limited Ukrainian progress east of the village of Krasnohorivka in the Donetsk province represents one of the first times in the war when Kyiv’s forces have retaken territory claimed by Russia since 2014, the British Defense Ministry said.

WILL PUTIN KEEP HIS GRIP ON POWER?Coup attempt dials up pressure over Ukraine war

Putin credits military with stopping ‘chaos’

Russia’s military and law enforcement agencies took steps in the crucial hours of the insurgency, saving the country from civil war, Putin told soldiers and other law enforcement personnel Tuesday. The honorees “stood in the way of disorder, which would have inevitably led to chaos,” Putin said.

“You saved our homeland from turmoil, and actually stopped civil war,” Putin told soldiers gathered in the Kremlin’s Cathedral Square. “In a dramatic situation, you acted clearly and coherently, proved your loyalty to the people of Russia and the military oath, and displayed responsibility for the fate of the motherland and its future.”

He also called for a moment of silence to “honor the memory” of more than a dozen pilots and others who were killed in the uprising. Prigozhin said his troops were attacked by planes and helicopters, a claim the Kremlin has denied.

Air-defense weapons part of $500 million aid package

The Pentagon announced Tuesday a $500 million military aid package for Ukraine that includes anti-aircraft weapons and armored vehicles to replace those damaged in the opening phase of the counteroffensive against Russia.

The weapons include missiles for the Patriot anti-aircraft system, 30 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, and 25 Stryker armored personnel carriers. Ukrainian forces have lost several Bradley vehicles as they have sought to breach Russian defenses in eastern Ukraine.

U.S. and Western allies have provided Ukraine with hundreds of armored personnel carriers and tanks to root out Russian forces who have fortified 600 miles of battle lines. Ukrainian soldiers have trained on the equipment and learned tactics during months of instruction in Europe.

They aim to punch through minefields and other obstacles by synchronizing their attacks. The Pentagon will ship 22 million rounds of ammunition as well.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed his appreciation in a tweet that also said, “Each package of such assistance is a step towards our common victory over the (Russian) aggressor.”

− Tom Vanden Brook

Lukashenko claims he talked Putin out of killing Prigozhin

Lukashenko, a dictatorial head of state with a history of making outlandish statements, appears to be enjoying his moment in the spotlight after years under Putin’s considerable shadow.

The Belarusian leader emerged as an unlikely mediator who helped end the revolt, and at a military ceremony Tuesday in Minsk he shared his version of the negotiations, including supposedly talking Putin out of having Prigozhin killed.

“I said to Putin, ‘Yes we could wipe him out, it wouldn’t be a problem. If it doesn’t work the first time, then the second,'” Lukashenko said, according to the British newspaper The Guardian. “I told him, ‘Don’t do this.'”

Lukashenko said he also encouraged Prigozhin to call off his troops’ march to Moscow, warning that he would be “squashed like a bug” and would never get the Kremlin to agree to his demands. On Saturday, the Wagner fighters retreated after getting within 120 miles of the Russian capital.

What happens to Wagner now?

Putin offered an olive branch to Wagner commanders and fighters in his televised address to the nation Monday, saying most of them were “Russian patriots” who were misled by the uprising’s organizers.

That was an attempt to incorporate them into the regular Russian military, reflecting Putin’s “need for trained and effective manpower” for operations in Ukraine and other countries, the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest update. Because of that, Putin gave Prigozhin’s troops the option to serve the country in some security capacity, join the Wagner founder in Belarus or retire and go home.

No such effort to reconcile will be made toward Prigozhin, the Washington-based think tank said, pointing out Putin called the revolt a “mutiny” and attempted “blackmail,” and referred to its leaders as “traitors.”

“The future of the Wagner Group is unclear,” the institute wrote, “but it will likely not include Yevgeny Prigozhin and may not continue to exist as a distinct or unitary entity.”

Russian nuclear weapons now in Belarus, Lukashenko says

Russia has shipped nuclear weapons to Belarus and is aiding Belarusian security forces in guarding the weaponry, Lukashenko said Tuesday. He added that Wagner mercenary troops, many of whom have reportedly crossed the border into Belarus, will not guard the nuclear armaments, Belarus Today reported. “This is our task,” he said, adding that while Russia is providing some services, he is “primarily responsible” for the security of the weapons.

“We are working together. We have no such experience,” Lukashenko said. “We are helping to service these nuclear weapons (but) it turns out this is not an easy undertaking.”

Putin had announced in March plans to ship some tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, Russia’s closest ally in the Ukraine war. Belarus borders Russia and Ukraine.

Prigozhin made $1 billion supplying food to Russian troops, Putin says

Putin dismissed Prigozhin’s claims that his troops were underfunded, saying Tuesday that from May 2022 to May 2023 the Russian government paid the Wagner Group more than $1 billion. Putin also said Prigozhin himself earned almost $1 billion through his military companies by supplying food and providing catering services to the army.

While Prigozhin appears to be in the clear for leading the insurgency, Putin seemed to leave the door open to possible charges based on financial dealings.

“I hope that during these works no one stole anything,” Putin said. “But, of course, we will deal with all this.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

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