Russian Authorities Drop Case Against Wagner Fighters

Russia’s Federal Security Service announced Tuesday it was closing an investigation into the armed mutiny by Yevgeny Prigozhin and members of his Wagner mercenary group.

In a statement carried by Russian news agencies, the FSB said those involved “ceased activities directed at committing the crime.”

Not prosecuting the fighters was part of an agreement late Saturday that brought the mutiny to an end.

Russia’s defense ministry also said Tuesday that the Wagner group was preparing to transfer heavy military equipment to the Russian military.

Prigozhin’s whereabouts were not clear Tuesday.

Flight tracking websites showed a jet linked to Prigozhin landed in Belarus on Tuesday.

The Wagner leader had said he would go to Belarus as part of a deal brokered by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko to end the mutiny.

Putin address

In a speech to the Russian nation, Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday excoriated the organizers of the Wagner rebellion, calling them “traitors.” 

The Russian leader said the organizers lied to their own people and “pushed them to death, under fire, to shoot their own,” deflecting Wagner fighters’ culpability for storming the southern city of Rostov, which they temporarily seized on their way toward Moscow.

Putin invited the Wagner soldiers and their commanders, whom he called “patriots,” to join the Russian military by signing with the Russian Ministry of Defense or with other law enforcement agencies. He also gave them the option if they wanted to go back to their families and friends or to move to Belarus should they choose.

The Russian leader made no mention of Prigozhin. However, he said the organizers of this rebellion betrayed “their country, their people, betrayed those who were drawn into the crime.”

He also said that through this revolt, the organizers gave Russian enemies what they wanted — “Russian soldiers to kill each other, so that military personnel and civilians would die, so that in the end Russia would lose … choke in a bloody civil strife.”

Putin also said 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.

“Time was needed, among other things, to give those who had made a mistake a chance to come to their senses, to realize 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,” he said.

Prigozhin on Monday made his first public comments since the brief rebellion he launched against Russia’s military leadership.

“We did not have the goal of overthrowing the existing regime and the legally elected government,” he said in an 11-minute audio message released on the Telegram messaging app.

Instead, Prigozhin said, he called his actions “a march to justice” triggered by a deadly attack on his private, Kremlin-linked military outfit by the Russian military. “We started our march because of an injustice,” the Wagner chief said, claiming that the Russian military had attacked a Wagner camp with missiles and then helicopters, killing about 30 of its men. Russia denied attacking the camp.

Prigozhin claimed the Wagner group was the most effective fighting force in Russia “and even the world.” He said the way Wagner had been able to take control of the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don without bloodshed and the way it sent an armed convoy to within 200 kilometers (124 miles) of Moscow was a testament to the effectiveness of its fighters.

Russian intelligence services were investigating whether Western spy agencies played a role in the aborted mutiny, the TASS news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying Monday.

The U.S. intelligence community “was aware” that the mutiny orchestrated by Prigozhin “was a possibility” and briefed the U.S. Congress “accordingly” before it began, said a source familiar with the issue, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Earlier, U.S. President Joe Biden said, “We made clear we were not involved, we had nothing to do with this.” Biden’s message that the West was not involved was sent directly to the Russians through various diplomatic channels, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters. He did not characterize Russia’s response.

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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