Russia prepared on Tuesday to take possession of heavy military hardware held by Wagner as Moscow moved to bring the mercenary group under its control after its aborted mutiny.
The uprising at the weekend sparked Russia’s most serious security crisis in decades, raising questions over President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power as his campaign in Ukraine drags on.
Russia’s FSB said on Tuesday that the criminal case against the group’s troops was now closed.
“Preparations are underway for the transfer of heavy military equipment from the private military company Wagner to units of the Russian armed forces,” the defence ministry said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told troops gathered Tuesday at the Kremlin they prevented civil war after a revolt by Wagner mercenaries, and held a minute’s silence for pilots killed during the insurrection.
It was the latest in a series of addresses Putin has made after the rebellion, the most serious security threat in his more than two-decade rule.
“You de facto stopped civil war,” Putin told troops from the defence ministry, National Guard, FSB security service and interior ministry.
He addressed them inside the Kremlin’s Cathedral Square, standing on a red carpet and facing men in different uniforms.
Soldiers holding the Russian flag and bayonets stood behind the longtime leader.
“You proved your loyalty to the people of Russia and the military oath. You showed responsibility for the fate of the motherland and its future,” he said.
He held a minute of silence for pilots killed in clashes with the mutineers, without revealing how many died.
He also said that Moscow had paid out last year just over $1 billion to the Wagner mercenary group, which last week staged a failed mutiny.
“The state paid to the Wagner group 86.262 billion rubles (around $1 billion) for salaries for fighters and incentive rewards between May 2022 and May 2023 alone,” Mr. Putin said.
Meanwhile, Yevgeny Prigozhin arrived in Belarus on Tuesday under a deal that ended a brief mutiny against the Russian military by his fighters, state news agency BELTA said, quoting Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
A plane linked to Prigozhin and believed to be carrying him into exile landed in Belarus from the southern Russian city of Rostov early on Tuesday, a flight tracking service said.
“I see Prigozhin is already flying in on this plane,” Lukashenko was quoted as saying by BELTA. “Yes, indeed, he is in Belarus today.”
(with Reuters inputs)