Kyiv downplayed the impact of a brief rebellion by the head of the Wagner mercenary group on the fighting on Wednesday, when the death toll from a Russian missile strike on a restaurant in eastern Ukraine grew to eight.
The explosion at the Ria Pizza restaurant in Kramatorsk, one of the largest remaining under Ukrainian control in the east, killed at least 56 people, including three children.
After Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s failed uprising, which was generally viewed as the strongest threat to Kremlin authority in decades, Kyiv claimed the mutiny had no effect on the fighting days later.
Prigozhin, sadly, gave up too soon. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba of Ukraine said as much to CNN in a video report broadcast on Wednesday: “There was no time for this demoralizing effect to penetrate Russian trenches.”
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin bolstered his influence on Tuesday as he thanked regular troops for preventing civil violence as Belarus welcomed Prigozhin into exile.
While Moscow was announcing plans to disarm Wagner fighters, Putin’s arch-enemy, jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, made his first public comments since the failed revolt by the paramilitaries, and they were scathing attacks on the president.
For Russia, “Putin’s regime” is “the biggest threat,” as Navalny put it on Twitter.
He warned that even once Putin’s leadership collapses, civil conflict remains a real possibility in Russia.
NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg said in The Hague that the alliance was ready to defend its members despite the fact that it was too soon to draw conclusions about Prigozhin’s relocation to Belarus and, possibly, some of his military.
“What is absolutely clear is that we have sent a clear message to Moscow and to Minsk that NATO is there to protect every ally and every inch of NATO territory,” said Stoltenberg.
Put an end to the civil conflict. Putin’s backers, though, argued that their leader’s authority was unaffected by the uprising.
When asked if Putin’s authority was shaken after seeing Wagner’s rebel mercenaries seize a military HQ, advance on Moscow, and fire down military planes along the way, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “We don’t agree.”
Putin himself tried to spin the weekend’s drama as a triumph for the Russian military.
Putin addressed the assembled servicemen from the Defense Ministry, National Guard, FSB security service, and Interior Ministry in a Kremlin courtyard as they observed a minute of silence for the airmen killed by Wagner.
Prigozhin, a former Kremlin loyalist and catering contractor who established Russia’s most powerful private army, has boasted, supported by some news footage, that citizens welcomed his men during his brief uprising.
Putin claimed, though, that Wagner’s common soldiers understood that “the army and the people were not with them.”
Putin told defense officials in a separate meeting that the Russian government paid for Wagner’s operations in full despite the fact that it was technically a separate company, and that since the attack on Ukraine a year ago, Moscow has paid the organization 86.262 billion rubles (roughly $1 billion) in salaries.
Wagner’s feud with the army had been heating up for months, during which Prigozhin had been publicly criticizing the generals’ handling of the offensive in Ukraine and laying the blame for thousands of Russian casualties on their shoulders.
Since the FSB dropped charges against regular Wagner troops and the military began preparing to disarm the group three days ago, Russian officials have been trying to put the incident behind them.
However, it is still unclear how the Kremlin permitted the bloodshed from their operation in Ukraine to return home to Russia.
On Tuesday, Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko criticized Russia’s handling of the situation and claimed responsibility for mediating Wagner’s U-turn en route to Moscow.
We might as well put him to use.
Lukashenko told his own military leaders that the renegade mercenary Prigozhin was arriving in Belarus on Tuesday and that he had pleaded with Putin not to murder him.
I told Putin, “We can easily waste him. Even if it doesn’t work the first time, it will eventually. Lukashenko was quoted by official media as saying, “I told him: don’t do this.”
Putin noted in his address that the uprising had not prompted Russia to pull any of its units out of Ukraine, where fighting was still going on as Kyiv’s brigades conducted a counteroffensive in the country’s east and south.
It has been 16 months since the fight began, and countless lives have been lost on all sides.
At least 77 captured people were executed summarily by Russian troops, according to the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, which also reported this on Tuesday.
“It is a war crime… it is also a gross violation of international human rights law,” said Matilda Bogner, the director of the mission.
Armor-plated trucks, precision bombs, and mine-clearing equipment are just some of the items that the United States stated it would be sending to Ukraine in a $500 million arms shipment to support the country’s growing counteroffensive.