The brief mutiny over the weekend by Russia’s Wagner mercenary group shows Moscow’s “weakness” under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, NATO’s chief says.
Jens Stoltenberg, secretary-general of the western military alliance, told reporters in Lithuania Monday that the rebellion by the powerful mercenary organization is a “demonstration of weakness” in the regime.
“It also demonstrates how difficult and dangerous it is for President (Vladimir) Putin to be reliant on mercenaries, that has actually turned against him,” he said.
“It demonstrates the fragility of the Russian regime but it is not for NATO to intervene in those issues, that’s a Russian matter.”
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A feud between Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin and Russia’s top military brass amid the fighting in Ukraine erupted into a mutiny over the weekend, which saw fighters from the mercenary group leave the front in Ukraine to seize a south Russian city and march seemingly unopposed on the capital, before turning around after less than 24 hours on Saturday.
The Kremlin said it had made a deal that the mercenary chief will move to Belarus and receive an amnesty, along with his soldiers. Yet on Monday, Russian media reported that a criminal probe against Prigozhin continued, and his whereabouts were unknown.
Russia has relied heavily on Wagner for its war against Ukraine, and the mercenary group has fought some of the bloodiest battles since the conflict began on Feb. 24, 2022.
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The mutiny was an unprecedented challenge to Putin’s authority in Russia and the events have left governments, both friendly and hostile to Russia, looking for answers to what could happen next in the country with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.
“Everyone has a lot of questions about what this actually means, but we don’t yet have a lot of answers and too much speculation right now would probably be extremely counterproductive,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Iceland on Monday.
“What we are doing, as we always will be, is discussing possible challenges and possible consequences for our own security, for our people’s security, for global stability — that is our highest preoccupation. It is obviously an internal issue for Russia to work through, but we need to stand and continue to be strong in support of Ukraine, in support of the rules-based order, and that’s where we will remain.”
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Officials have still given no details about the deal that abruptly ended the mutiny.
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There was no word about the revolt from Putin himself, who had said on Saturday that the rebellion put Russia’s very existence under threat and vowed to punish those behind it. The Kremlin released a video Monday from him congratulating participants of an industrial forum, containing no indication of when it had been filmed.
In another move apparently intended to convey normality, authorities released video showing Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. The mutineers had demanded he be sacked, leading to speculation that his removal might have been part of the arrangement that ended the revolt.
Russia rebellion: Wagner group stands down, Prigozhin to move to Belarus
There was still no public sign of Prigozhin, last seen on Saturday smiling in the back of an SUV as he left the southern city of Rostov-On-Don, captured by his men before he ordered them to stand down.
U.S. President Joe Biden and leaders of several of Ukraine’s European allies discussed events in Russia over the weekend, but western officials have been muted in their public comments.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters Monday the revolt showed that the war is “cracking Russia’s political system.”
“The monster that Putin created with Wagner, the monster is biting him now,” Borrell said. “The monster is acting against his creator.”
— with files from Reuters and The Associated Press
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