Muted Mutiny: Yevgeny Prigozhin's Vanishing Act Amid Kremlin's Power Play
Wagner Leader Falls Silent
The ongoing saga of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the belligerent head of the Wagner mercenary outfit who launched a rebellion against Russian leadership last month, has taken a twist into the twilight zone. The previously vocal commander has largely evaporated from public view as Moscow strategizes to control the fallout from his audacious armed defiance.
In a perplexing move, the Kremlin announced on Monday that Putin had held a closed-door meeting with the renegade leader only five days after the failed coup. This revelation followed recent debates within the Kremlin's inner circle about the potential assassination of the rebel ringleader. Here's a recap of the curious events:
On June 24, Prigozhin made a public declaration, calling off his forces that were advancing towards Moscow in open rebellion against Russia's military hierarchy. The Wagner chief released an audio message justifying the march as a means to "prevent the destruction of PMC Wagner" and to bring accountability for the "huge number of mistakes" made during Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Putin vowed to "punish anyone" who had been involved in Prigozhin's mutiny, accusing them of treason.
Events on June 27 added another twist to this tailspin when a private aircraft linked to Prigozhin landed in Belarus. He was believed to be slated for exile in Belarus per a deal brokered by its leader, Alexander Lukashenkov,, a known Putin ally, to quash the insurrection.
However, things became murkier on June 29 when the Kremlin announced that Prigozhin had a face-to-face meeting with Putin, leaving many questioning whether he ever set foot in Belarus. Images or videos from this clandestine meeting remain conspicuously absent. The Kremlin maintains that Prigozhin swore his fealty to Putin during their tête-à-tête, a stark contrast to Putin's earlier portrayal of the insurrection's orchestrators as traitors to their country.
On July 3, Prigozhin's voice echoed one last time in an audio message, promoting the "March of Justice" as a movement against traitors and rallying for upcoming victories. A day later, he was spotted at the FSB state security building in his hometown, St. Petersburg, where he allegedly reclaimed some of his weaponry. At the time of this report, Prigozhin has "all but vanished."
As per flight records and Lukashenko's confirmation on July 6, the Wagner leader returned to St. Petersburg, casting doubts on the terms of his supposed exile.
Currently, Prigozhin's location is reported to be in Russia. But since his failed rebellion, the vocal Wagner chief has slipped into the shadows. His silence across social media platforms and his lack of response to press queries is as baffling as it is uncharacteristic.
Meanwhile, Putin finds himself in a peculiar predicament over Prigozhin. He has previously shown little hesitation in eliminating those he deems disloyal. Yet, the Wagner leader remains alive and in Russia, a surprise move that has astounded former US intelligence officials.