The latest on the aftermath of the armed rebellion declared by Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin:
A spokesman for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz reacted cautiously Monday when asked to assess what had happened in Russia over the weekend.
“First of all, this is an internal Russian matter and we are monitoring what is happening there,” Steffen Hebestreit told reporters in Berlin. “What actually occurred there, only time will tell.”
Hebestreit declined to say what impact the latest events would have on the diplomatic efforts to begin peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. But he said that Scholz’s top foreign policy adviser, Jens Ploetner, attended a closed-door meeting over the weekend in Copenhagen between Western countries and the so-called BRICS group of major emerging economies such as Brazil, India, China and South Africa.
That group would normally include Russia, which wasn’t present.
The meeting had been proposed by Ukraine, Hebestreit said, and the gathered representatives “were there to discuss the situation and perspectives.” He wouldn’t comment on the content of the meeting, nor on whether Germany had been in contact with Russian officials over the weekend, including about the safety of Moscow’s nuclear arsenal.
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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has made his first public appearance since a mercenary uprising demanded his ouster.
Shoigu appeared in a video Monday inspecting troops in Ukraine, apparently in a bid to project a sense of order after a weekend that saw armed rebels seize a Russian city and march seemingly unopposed on the capital.
Shoigu is one of three powerful Russian military leaders whose diverging interests erupted into mutiny on Friday when thousands of Wagner Group mercenaries headed from Ukraine deep into Russia, before turning around Saturday after less than 24 hours.
He is the first of the leaders to appear publicly since then, in video released by the Defense Ministry that was widely picked up by Russian media. It was unclear when it was filmed.
Neither Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin nor Russia’s General Staff chief Gen. Valery Gerasimov — like Shoigu, a target of Prigozhin’s ire — has been seen or heard from in public since then.
Prigozhin declared a “march of justice” to oust Shoigu and Gerasimov late Friday. Wagner mercenaries captured the southern city of Rostov-on-Don and then marched toward Moscow, but withdrew after the Kremlin announced a deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to allow Prigozhin to move to Belarus and receive an amnesty, along with his soldiers.
Yet on Monday, Russian media reported that a criminal investigation against Prigozhin continued, and his whereabouts remained unknown. If the case against him continues, Prigozhin’s presence in Belarus, which has been a close ally of the Kremlin and supports Russia’s war in Ukraine, would offer little protection against arrest and extradition.
Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t made any public appearances since issuing a brief televised address on Saturday during the mutiny.
Speaking to reporters before chairing a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the Wagner revolt showed that the war in Ukraine is “cracking Russia’s political system.”
“The monster that Putin created with Wagner, the monster is biting him now,” Borrel said Monday. “The monster is acting against his creator. The political system is showing fragilities, and the military power is cracking.”
Upon arriving to the meeting in Luxembourg, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg called Prigozhin a “megalomaniac mercenary leader,” and said the Wagner chief’s mutiny showed that “the evil spirit is out of the bottle” in Putin’s Russia.
“You almost have the feeling that the Russian president is like the sorcerer’s apprentice again. He can’t get rid of the ghosts he called, and they’re going to haunt him now,” Schallenberg said.
During comments in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Monday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the weekend mutiny “an internal Russian matter,” but said it was “yet another demonstration of the big strategic mistake that President Putin made with his illegal annexation of Crimea (in 2014) and the war against Ukraine.”
Stoltenberg said that Ukraine’s counteroffensive is well underway, and that “the more land they are able to liberate, the stronger their hand will eventually be at the negotiating table, to achieve a just and lasting peace.”
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