MOSCOW--Russian President Vladimir Putin made a defiant televised address on Monday evening, saying he had deliberately let Saturday's 24-hour mutiny by the Wagner militia go on as long as it did to avoid bloodshed, and that it had reinforced national unity. The statement, his first on the issue since he spoke on Saturday promising to crush the mutiny, appeared intended to draw a line under an event that numerous Western leaders saw as exposing Putin's vulnerability since invading Ukraine 16 months ago.
Wagner's fighters, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, succeeded in taking control of the city of Rostov-on-Don with its military command centre steering the Ukraine campaign, and driving an armed convoy across Russia to within 200 km (125 miles) of Moscow. "From the very beginning of the events, steps were taken on my direct instruction to avoid serious bloodshed," Putin said. "Time was needed, among other things, to give those who had made a mistake a chance to come to their senses, to realise that their actions were firmly rejected by society, and that the adventure in which they had been involved had tragic and destructive consequences for Russia and for our state." Putin made no mention of Prigozhin, who had demanded that Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, come to Rostov to speak to him. Prigozhin called for both of them to be dismissed.
Nor did Putin mention any planned personnel changes at the Defence Ministry, although at around 11 p.m. Moscow time he was shown on television addressing a meeting of heads of his security departments, including Shoigu. Prigozhin had said his men had been forced to shoot down helicopters that attacked them as they drove towards Moscow; Putin did allude to some bloodshed, but blamed it on Wagner: "The organisers of the mutiny, having betrayed their country, their people, also betrayed those whom they dragged into the crime. They lied to them, they pushed them to death: under fire, to shoot their own." Putin thanked Wagner fighters and commanders who had stood down from the mutiny to avoid what he called "fratricidal bloodshed" and said the vast majority of Wagner's members were patriots. He said those who decided not to sign contracts with the army under a Defence Ministry order could either relocate to Belarus or simply return to their families. Putin said all levels of society had taken a firm, unambiguous position in support of the constitutional order.
"Everyone was united and rallied by the main thing," he said, "responsibility for the fate of the Fatherland." Russia says it is carrying out a "special military operation" in Ukraine to remove what it calls a potential threat against its own security from the Western-leaning government in Kyiv. Ukraine and the West described the February 2022 invasion as an unprovoked land grab.