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Prigozhin’s First Audio Message Since His Failed Coup Predictably Twists The Truth
The Wagner chief is sticking to his demands for justice, still denying any intent to overthrow President Putin, and insisting that those pilots who his forces shot at and which reports claimed were killed had been targeted in self-defense. This fact-check proves that he’s twisting the truth in all regards, which is likely being done out of ego as well as the possibility that he still has some political ambitions that he hopes to revive sometime in the future.
The Wagner Chief Speaks
Prigozhin released an over ten-minute-long audio message on Telegram in which he shared his version of events from over the weekend. It can be listened to at his press service’s account here, while those who don’t understand Russian can read a rough automated translation here. Upon doing so, they’ll see that he predictably twisted the truth about his failed coup. In fact, one of the purposes behind his message was to deny that he had any such regime change intent, instead claiming that it was only just a protest.
Was Wagner Really Going To Be Fully Disbanded?
The Wagner chief started off by alleging that his group would have ceased to legally exist by 1 July after refusing to sign contracts with the Defense Ministry (DM) despite all of its accomplishments in advancing Russian interests across the world and especially in the course of the special operation. While that might have been the case in terms of the law, it’s doubtful that Russia would have fully disbanded the same fighting force that functions as the pillar of its African policy, which was explained here, here, and here.
Wagner members might have been prohibited from participating in the special operation and had their activities inside Russia restricted due to their group’s lack of legal status, but there are no grounds to believe that its African-based fighters would have been prevented from fulfilling their duties there. Considering the patriotism that characterizes most of their members, the vast majority would probably have redeployed to that continent in order to continue serving their country.
Prigozhin Admits To Russian Blood On His Hands
The next point that Prigozhin made was to claim that Wagner gathered their equipment ahead of time in anticipation of handing it all over to the DM in Rostov by 30 June in the event that a last-minute deal wasn’t reached to enable them to continue operating as before without signing contracts with the DM. He then claimed that the DM launched a surprise strike against them on Friday, resulting in the death of over 30 members, which is why the decision was made to march on Rostov and Moscow later that day.
None of the above can be independently confirmed, but the bombing was denied by both the DM and the FSB, for what it’s worth. A cynic might suspect that Prigozhin is just spinning a story to explain why Wagner gathered all that equipment in advance if it didn’t supposedly plan to carry out a coup. This narrative also presents his forces as acting out of self-defense, which is important when it comes to winning and retaining the population’s support, especially after what he soon thereafter admitted.
Prigozhin confirmed that his forces did indeed fire on the Russian Air Force exactly as was reported, which readers can learn more about in detail here if they aren’t already familiar, but said that they regretted it and only did so after bombs were dropped on them first. This detail discredits the popular conspiracy theory swirling around the Alt-Media Community claiming that the coup attempt was a false flag cooked up by President Putin, which some say was to secretly open a northern front against Ukraine.
There’s no way that he colluded with Prigozhin to kill their country’s pilots, especially since last weekend’s events attracted much more attention to Wagner than if its fighters quietly dispersed over the weeks and then gradually reassembled at a later date in Belarus and/or on Russia’s pre-2014 borders with Ukraine. It’s everyone’s right to believe whatever they want, but it’s beyond kooky for anyone to still insist on this after now knowing that Russian pilots were killed during the failed coup.
Why Wasn’t Wagner Stopped En Route To Moscow?
Moving on after debunking that ridiculous conspiracy theory, Prigozhin then claimed that his forces locked down and neutralized all military facilities along the route of their march to Moscow without killing anyone on the ground despite a few of their own suffering casualties. Like what he alleged about the DM bombing Wagner, this also can’t be independently confirmed but might be speculatively due to President Putin’s reluctance to have the military resort to force except as an absolute last resort.
Despite saying during his national address that “The Armed Forces and other government agencies have received the necessary orders” to have those involved in the events “punished” and “answer before the law”, those tasked with doing so could have been told to use their discretion when it comes to force. After all, the Russian leader also said during his address that “We will not allow [Russians killing Russians and brothers killing brothers] to happen again”, so it’s a credible possibility and not baseless conjecture.
In that scenario, those at the military facilities along that route might have decided not to resort to force to stop Wagner so long as that group didn’t fire first, instead calculating that it’s best to heed President Putin’s words as much as is realistically possible under those tense circumstances while waiting to see if the crisis will soon end on its own. As for Prigozhin’s next claim that his fighters knew the ultimate goal of their march and weren’t forced to participate in it, that might only be partially true too.
What Were Wagner’s Fighters Really Thinking?
Many might have truly thought that it was an “anti-corruption” campaign like their boss told them and didn’t hear President Putin’s national address until later since they reportedly had to hand over their cell phones before heading out. If what he said was true about their compatriots not stopping them along their route, especially for the reasons speculated above, then this impression would have persisted until they approached Moscow and realized that blood would definitely be shed if they didn’t back down.
At that moment, they’d have known that something was wrong and that the Armed Forces were willing to use force to oppose them, thus dispelling the illusion that they had the Russian leader’s tacit support for what they’d hitherto sincerely thought was their “anti-corruption” campaign. If Prigozhin didn’t intend to challenge the head of state, then he’d have called off their march the moment that the latter demanded this of him during his national address instead of defiantly continuing on to the capital.
This observation therefore contradicts the Wagner chief’s claim that this was just a protest aimed at bringing to justice those who he says allegedly bungled the special operation since Prigozhin already caught President Putin’s attention by the time of his speech yet still kept marching towards Moscow. Nevertheless, what he said regarding the support that his group received from some of the public is true since it’s backed up by video evidence, but all isn’t as simple as he makes it seem.
What Were Wagner’s Supporters In Rostov Really Thinking?
Anti-corruption causes and criticism of the military brass for their conduct of the special operation thus far are legitimately popular among a segment of the population, many of whom had up until this point assumed that Prigozhin had the support of people in the Presidential Administration. The very fact that he wasn’t apprehended or at least charged for violating the otherwise strictly enforced law prohibiting defamation of the Armed Forces was interpreted by them as evidence that he had powerful patrons.
Even after President Putin sharply condemned him for treasonously stabbing their country in the back due to his “Inflated ambitions and personal interests”, some might have thought that the Russian leader was a so-called “palace hostage” of the supposedly corrupt military and thus said this under duress. Placed in traditional historical terms, they could have imagined that he was “the good tsar surrounded by bad boyars who had to be freed by a good boyar for the sake of the country”.
The point is that it shouldn’t be assumed that all those in Rostov who publicly supported Prigozhin did so because they shared his thinly disguised intent to overthrow President Putin after he refused to make the personnel changes in the DM that were demanded of him. It should also be said that the number of people in that footage represents an insignificant proportion of the population, though as was earlier written, there’s also no denying that Prigozhin’s self-professed causes resonate with many more than that.
What Was The Real Reason Why Prigozhin Retreated?
What’s beyond dispute, however, is that practically everyone in the country regardless of their stance on this crisis was relieved that Prigozhin turned around after approaching Moscow and concluding that there was no way to continue his march without provoking enormous bloodshed. What he said about not wanting to spill any Russian blood isn’t true though since he himself earlier admitted in this same audio message that his side did indeed fire on the Russian Air Force, albeit out of self-defense he said.
Blood was therefore already spilled by his fighters regardless of their reason behind doing so, thus meaning that this explanation isn’t sincere and that he probably decided to turn around at that point since he thought that it would be a suicide mission to try to take the capital. The second explanation that he shared for this decision is that he’d already demonstrated his protest, which he insists was never intended to topple the government, though this also isn’t true either.
As was earlier written, he defiantly challenged the head of state by continuing onward after explicitly being told by him to stop, which leaves no doubt that his march had transformed into a regime change operation by that point even if one believes that it was only an “anti-corruption” campaign until then. In any case, he claims that this marked the moment when Belarusian President Lukashenko intervened to offer Wagner the option to continue legally operating by relocating to that allied country.
Can Wagner’s March Really Be Compared To The Special Operation?
In his closing remarks, Prigozhin said that this march exposed serious security problems in the country due to his force’s neutralization of all those military facilities along their route, though this was already accounted for in the analysis. The next part about them having traveled further during this march than the Russian Armed Forces did at the beginning of the special operation, and this supposedly proving that the latter could have ended right away if properly executed, is also questionable.
Even though it’s true that Wagner is universally regarded as an elite force that stands head and shoulders above their peers, they weren’t being fired at by their compatriots over the weekend, unlike the resistance that they’d have been expected to receive from their Ukrainian foes. This makes his comparison an inaccurate and manipulative one, especially when remembering that Kiev was able to muster enough meat to hold Wagner back from capturing Artyomovsk for months.
That’s not to imply that they’re equals since that battle ground down Ukraine’s capabilities and forced it to throw literally dozens of formations against that single one, but just that this example shows in hindsight that nobody should have expected a quick victory no matter how the special operation began. The point that he’s trying to make is obviously intended to score political points, redeem his reputation after last weekend’s failed coup, and also hammer home the harsh criticisms that he’s made of the DM.
Altogether, his first audio message since last weekend’s events saw him sticking to his demands for justice, still denying any intent to overthrow President Putin, and insisting that those pilots who his forces shot at and which reports claimed were killed had been targeted in self-defense. This fact-check proves that he’s twisting the truth in all regards, which is likely being done out of ego as well as the possibility that he still has some political ambitions that he hopes to revive sometime in the future.