Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russian mercenary Wagner Group has broken his silence, releasing an 11-minute audio message, where he claims that he initiated Saturday's ''march of justice" to Moscow as a protest and "not to overthrow the country's government."
Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin on Monday released the first audio statement since an aborted armed rebellion he staged on Saturday, defending the move as a reaction to an attack on his force that killed some of his 30 fighters.
“We started our march because of an injustice,” Prigozhin said in an 11-minute audio. "Civilians came out to meet us with Russian flags and Wagner emblems, they were happy when we arrived and walked past them."
“On the way, we did not kill a single soldier on the ground. In a day, we were only 200 kilometres away from Moscow.
"We entered and completely took control of the city of Rostov. The civilians were glad to see us. We showed a master class on how February 24, 2022, should have looked like. We did not have the goal of overthrowing the existing regime and the legally elected government, which was said many times. We turned around to not shed Russian soldiers' blood.”
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who acted as mediator between the Kremlin and Wagner on Saturday, had proposed solutions to allow the paramilitary group to continue operating, he claimed.
"Mr Lukashenko reached out and offered to find solutions to enable the Wagner group to continue its work in a legal manner", said Prigozhin, according to whom the real aim of the armed rebellion was to save Wagner, which in his view was threatened with being dismantled by the authorities.
He didn’t offer any details as to where he was or what his future plans are.
Wagner troops have played a crucial role in the Ukraine war, capturing the eastern city of Bakhmut, an area where the bloodiest and longest battles have taken place. But Prigozhin has increasingly criticized the military brass, accusing it of incompetence and of starving his troops of munitions.
The feud that has festered throughout the war erupted into a mutiny that saw the mercenaries leave Ukraine to seize a military headquarters in a southern Russian city and roll seemingly unopposed for hundreds of miles toward Moscow, before turning around after less than 24 hours on Saturday.
The Kremlin said it had made a deal that Prigozhin will move to Belarus and receive an amnesty, along with his soldiers. There was no confirmation of his whereabouts Monday, although a popular Russian news channel on Telegram reported he was seen at a hotel in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.