Russian president Vladimir Putin has said Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s uprising was “doomed to fail” and that the revolt left the country “united.”
Addressing the nation in a televised speech on Monday evening for the first time since Mr Prigozhin halted his march on Moscow on Saturday, Mr Putin said that “the armed rebellion would have been suppressed in any case”.
“The organisers of the rebellion understood this,” he said, without mentioning the name of the mercenary leader Mr Prigozhin.
“Any blackmail or way to bring confusion to Russia is doomed to failure.
“I made steps to avoid large bloodshed. This needed time including letting those who made a mistake change their mind and see the consequences this will lead to,” the president added.
Mr Putin appeared to suggest that the Wagner group would be shut down, saying that the mercenary group’s fighters had the choice to sign a contract with the ministry of defence. Mr Putin added he would honour his promise to allow Wagner fighters to relocate to Belarus if they wanted, or to rejoin their families. “The majority of Wagner commanders and fighters are patriots. They were used covertly against their brothers-in-arms,” he said.
Earlier, Russia’s government urged its citizens to unite around president Putin after the brief rebellion by the Wagner mercenary group, whose leader Mr Prigozhin could still face charges despite supposedly being cleared under the deal to end the crisis.
Mr Prigozhin, whose whereabouts is a mystery, reappeared for the first time since abandoning his armed mutiny on Saturday evening. In a defiant 11-minute statement, he said his intention was not to overthrow Russia’s government but to register a protest over what he said was its ineffectual conduct of the war in Ukraine.
The Kremlin said on Saturday those involved in the uprising would not be prosecuted and Mr Prigozhin would go into exile in neighbouring Belarus.
However, several Russian media outlets said on Monday that the FSB security service was still investigating Mr Prigozhin over the armed rebellion, during which Wagner units shot down several military aircraft, reportedly killing 13 members of their crew.
“In recent days the country has faced another challenge, an attempt was made to destabilise the internal situation in Russia,” prime minister Mikhail Mishustin told a cabinet meeting.
“The main thing in these conditions is to ensure the sovereignty and independence of our country, the security and wellbeing of citizens. For this, the consolidation of the whole of society is especially important; we need to act together, as one team, and maintain the unity of all forces, rallying around the president,” he added.
Kyiv and its western allies, as well as Russian opponents of Mr Putin, said the chaos of Saturday exposed his growing weakness, 16 months after he launched an unsuccessful all-out invasion of Ukraine that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.
Analysts said it was particularly striking to hear the Kremlin announce on Saturday evening that the rebels would not be charged and Mr Prigozhin would move to Belarus as a free man, given the death and destruction caused by an uprising that saw Wagner seize the big southern city of Rostov without facing any serious resistance from the Russian army.
“The political system is showing fragilities, and the military power is cracking … It’s not a good thing to see that a nuclear power like Russia can go into a phase of political instability,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
“The monster that Putin created with Wagner, the monster is biting him now, the monster is acting against his creator,” he added of a group that has earned a reputation for brutality while fighting for Kremlin and commercial interests in Ukraine, the Middle East and Africa.
Mr Putin made a video address to young Russian engineers on Monday but did not mention the weekend’s events. Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu – who Mr Prigozhin said should be sacked for bungling the war in Ukraine – appeared in a video that officials said showed him visiting a front-line command post. However, it was unclear when the footage was filmed, and it included no sound.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke to US president Joe Biden, Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau about events in Russia and the counteroffensive launched this month by Kyiv’s troops against Mr Putin’s invasion force.
“The world must put pressure on Russia until international order is restored,” said Mr Zelenskiy, who also urged western allies to provide more arms and ammunition to Ukraine and work to ensure Moscow’s forces did not damage the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is near the vast Kakhovka dam that was destroyed earlier this month.
Ukraine’s military said its forces had reclaimed the southeastern village of Rivnopil, the ninth settlement to be liberated since the start of a counteroffensive this month that has brought some 130 sq km of territory back under Kyiv’s control.
US president Joe Biden said the United States had nothing to do with the attempted Wagner rebellion.
In his first public comments on the issue on Monday, he said it was still too early to reach a definitive conclusion about the outcome of the incident.
Mr Biden said he had been briefed “hour by hour” by his national security advisers over the weekend and had convened talks with key allies.
“We made clear that we were not involved. We had nothing to do with it.
“This was part of a struggle within the Russian system.”
Mr Biden said his administration would keep assessing the fallout from the events and the implications for Russia and Ukraine.
“But it’s still too early to reach a definitive conclusion about where this is going.”
Mr Biden said the leaders of key US allies ” agreed with me that we had to make sure we gave Putin no excuse … to blame this on the West or to blame this on Nato”.
US national security council spokesman John Kirby told a White House briefing that the US had held conversations with Russia over the weekend to maintain it was not involved in events taking place in the country.
He said Washington had also reminded Moscow of its obligations to protect diplomats.
Mr Kirby said the US was not taking sides in the internal power struggle within Russia.
He also said that there was no indication of any change in command in the military forces of Russia following the weekend incidents.- Additional reporting: Guardian, Martin Wall, agencies.