As Prigozhin’s troops pushed deeper into Russia, they reportedly clashed with military air forces, killing at least 13 pilots.
«The question hangs in the air: who and how will answer for the death of the Russian military during the ‘march of justice’?» the influential pro-war Telegram channel Rybar wrote on Saturday.
“A bullet in the forehead is the only salvation for both Prigozhin and Utkin,” Andrey Gurulyov, a member of parliament and retired army officer, said of Wagner’s commander, Dmitry Utkin, in an appearance on state television Sunday.
Igor Girkin, a former Russian army officer turned popular military blogger, also called for Prigozhin’s execution. He said that it was «necessary to preserve Russia as a state,» he said in Telegram Monday.
Once a shadowy figure, Prigozhin emerged as a face of the war in Ukraine as his mercenaries led parts of Russia’s campaign on the eastern front. Driven to seize Bakhmut’s token prize, he escalated his enmity with military leaders in Moscow. Boasting Wagner’s prowess and mocking his enemies, Prigozhin often went far beyond the rhetoric commonly allowed in such a tightly controlled political system. That helped him broaden his celebrity and gather his following.
Even after Prigozhin returned from Moscow, people on the streets of the southern city of Rostov-on-Don cheered as the Wagner fighters who had taken it set off, many chanting in support and some even running to shake Prigozhin’s hand. as he walked away. in his SUV.
But now the man whose grip on power Prigozhin undermined has apparently had enough.
Although the Kremlin has so far apparently stuck to the deal to drop the charges against Prigozhin and allow him to go to Belarus, Putin has criticized the mercenary leader in speeches and has notably praised Wagner’s own fighters.
«Putin is trying to portray Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin as corrupt and a liar in order to destroy his reputation among Wagner staff and within Russian society.» said the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.
“The Kremlin needs to separate Prigozhin’s cause from his personality,” the institute said, adding that it “would likely continue to attack Prigozhin’s character in order to break Prigozhin’s popular support, dissuade Wagner’s staff from following him to Belarus and destroy his power. financial».
What Prigozhin ultimately gained from the brief revolt remains unclear.
“The plan was to make a lot of noise and rowdy, attract Putin’s attention and negotiate comfortable conditions to continue working: a position, security and money,” Tatiana Stanovaya, a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Sunday. in Twitter.
Prigozhin defiantly framed the mutiny as an attempt to prevent Wagner from falling under the control of the Defense Ministry, but the Kremlin has now offered its fighters the chance to join the ranks of the Russian army, go home, or follow their leader to an uncertain future in Belarus. .
It is unclear how many will rush to join him.
Yuliya Talmazan and Associated Press contributed.