1 of 6 | Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin spoke out in an 11-minute audio recording Monday, saying his forces did not march on Moscow to overthrow President Vladimir Putin. Photo courtesy of Press Service of Prigozhin/UPI | License Photo
June 26 (UPI) -- Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said Monday that his mercenaries were not trying to topple the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin when they marched on Moscow over the weekend.
In an 11-minute audio message posted Monday, Prigozhin said he was "categorically against" a decision to close Wagner and sign contracts with the military by July 1.
"We didn't march to overthrow Russia's leadership," he said in the video. "The aim of the march was to avoid destruction of Wagner and to hold to account the officials who through their unprofessional actions have committed a massive number of errors."
Prigozhin, who is reportedly in Belarus, said its President Alexander Lukashenko played a part in ending the brief rebellion. He said Lukashenko "extended his hand and offered to find ways for Wagner to continue its work legally."
Considered once a part of Putin's inner circle, Prigozhin continued to criticize Russian military leadership, went on to claim if his mercenary group was in charge during the early days of Russia's invasion that it would be over by now.
In the meantime, Russian state media said Prigozhin remained under investigation for treason despite a deal that had him leave for Belarus and the Kremlin saying criminal charges had been dropped. No other details were given.
A source close to the Russian state media TASS said that Russian intelligence services will monitor Prigozhin while he's in Belarus and will likely not engage in any political activities, "however, his expertise may prove useful for establishing a [private military company] in Belarus."
The Russian defense ministry released a video to state television on Monday showing Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visiting troops involved in the war in Ukraine.
The ministry did not elaborate on when the video was taken or where it was taken. If confirmed, it would mark Shoigu's first sighting since a rebellion.
Russian news agencies have previously shared prerecorded segments showing officials, including Putin, working in the Kremlin when in reality they may be elsewhere.
The video said Shoigu visited "the forward command post of one of the formations of the 'Western' group of troops." The defense minister could be seen riding in a vehicle and arriving at a command post, where he listens to reports from officers and looked over a battlefield map. The video contained no sound.
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin called on Russia to unify behind Putin in the wake of the revolt.
"The consolidation of the whole of society is especially important; we need to act together, as one team, and maintain the unity of all forces, rallying around the president," he said in a televised meeting.
Prigozhin, fighting on behalf of Moscow against Ukraine, has frequently criticized Russia's military and its leadership for not having more success in Ukraine. He has also accused the Kremlin of not providing enough weapons for his private military organization.
Over the weekend, rebel Wagner members captured a city 120 miles from Moscow in protest before turning it back over. Putin, in the meantime, called Prigozhin a traitor and announced a deal to exile the mercenary leader to Belarus, one of Russia's few allies in its war against Ukraine.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin had placed restrictions against Wagner Group members over the weekend at the height of the rebellion but officially called off those limits on Monday.
In response to the rebellion, Russian Internet regulators blocked access to the VKontakte social network page for the Concord Group, a company owned by Prigozhin. Roskomnadzor, the Russian federal agency responsible for controlling and censoring mass media, had blocked access to Prigozhin's company page after the revolt.