Russian state TV has launched a fierce attack on Yevgeny Prigozhin, the exiled boss of the Wagner mercenary force, saying that an investigation into the private army’s short-lived mutiny against the Moscow military leadership was still under way.
In a programme called 60 Minutes broadcast on Wednesday on Russia’s state Russia-1 TV channel, the Wagner boss was branded a “traitor” and viewers were told that the criminal case against Prigozhin was in full swing.
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Prigozhin’s Wagner force crossed from Ukraine into Russia on June 24 and took control of the southern city of Rostov-on-Don as a unit of his fighters sped towards Moscow in an attempt to remove key Russian military officials.
But the Wagner convoy stopped within 200km (124 miles) of Moscow, and to the surprise of many, Prigozhin said he had called off his operation after agreeing to lead his forces into Belarus after a deal was struck with the country’s leader Alexander Lukashenko, and in order to not spill Russian blood.
Under the deal, all criminal charges against Prigozhin and the Wagner fighters who participated in the mutiny were to be dropped.
The host of the 60 Minutes programme, Russian lawmaker Yevgeny Popov, said Prigozhin was “a traitor” and video footage shot during police raids of Prigozhin’s office and residence in Saint Petersburg was shown as proof of the Wagner chief’s criminality.
The footage showed boxes full of high-denomination roubles in Prigozhin’s office and bundles of dollars in his luxurious residence, along with what was called his personal helicopter, an arms cache, a collection of wigs, a fully equipped medical treatment room, and a collection of souvenir sledge hammers, the tool Wagner fighters allegedly used to bludgeon traitors to death in videos that have surfaced online.
The footage was presented by a specially invited guest – journalist Eduard Petrov.
“Nobody planned to close this case. The investigation is ongoing,” Petrov told the viewers. He also said that Russian investigators had concluded that a video used by Prigozhin as a pretext to start his mutiny against Russian military chiefs – which claimed to show a Russian missile attack on a Wagner camp – was a fake.
Cash worth 600 million roubles ($6.58m) had been found in Prigozhin’s properties, he added. The programme also showed what it said were multiple passports Prigozhin had used and which carried different names.
“A normal person can’t have so many passports,” Petrov said.
“Why did this person have such strange powers like the serious leader of some kind of criminal group?” he asked.
“We need to get to the bottom of who was on whose side [in the mutiny]. We need to punish and prosecute them,” he added.
“I consider that the creation of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s image as a people’s hero was all done by media fed by Yevgeny Prigozhin,” Petrov also said, referring to media outlets financed by Prigozhin.
“After it [the mutiny] failed, they quickly closed and fled,” he said.
Washington, DC-based think tank, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said on Wednesday that the general director of Russia’s TASS news agency had been replaced in what Ukrainian officials said may indicate the Kremlin’s unhappiness with how the Wagner mutiny was reported.
The Kremlin also continues to be concerned with security in the Russian capital following the Wagner mutiny as police in Moscow are now reportedly receiving training in the use of battlefield weapons, such as grenade throwing and light machine gun shooting, as well as “urban combat tactics”.
“Such training indicates that the Kremlin is attempting to improve the ability of security forces in Moscow to defend the regime against potential future threats” in the aftermath of the Wagner rebellion, the ISW said.