Vladimir Putin says Wagner paramilitaries were paid billions by the Russian state

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President Vladimir Putin has said the Russian state has paid billions of dollars to the Wagner paramilitary group, as more details emerged about the deal that ended last weekend’s insurgency.

Putin on Tuesday admitted for the first time after years of Kremlin denials that Wagner was “fully financed” by the state, with Rbs86bn ($1bn) in payments made from May 2022 to May 2023 and Rbs110bn in insurance payments with.

His comments came as Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was confirmed to be in Belarus by the country’s president and the Russian Defense Ministry announced it was taking over heavy weapons from paramilitary forces.

Putin is now moving to incorporate the group into the official army after Prigozhin’s failed march on Moscow on Saturday.

In addition to the direct payment to Wagner, Putin said Prigozhin’s catering company Concorde received an additional Rbs80bn in army catering contracts.

“I hope nobody stole anything, or didn’t steal much, but we’ll sort it out,” Putin said.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who mediated the agreement that ended the rebellion, said “guarantees of security . . . to ensure Prigozhin’s safe passage from Russia” were provided, he said, adding that Wagner’s founder “Today in Belarus”.

Lukashenko said Wagner’s fighters had returned to a base camp in Ukraine’s occupied Luhansk region days after capturing the Russian city of Rostov and marching toward Moscow in an unprecedented test of Putin’s authority.

The developments on Tuesday came as Putin sought to reassert control after many hardline supporters of his war in Ukraine claimed Wagner had made embarrassing concessions.

According to state newswire RIA Novosti, Russia’s main security service, the FSB, said it had closed its investigation into the weekend uprising because the participants had “ceased activities directly aimed at committing crimes”.

While the Kremlin said shortly after the failed uprising that the charges would be dropped, they later remained in force in an apparent attempt to pressure Wagner to abide by the accord.

Some of Putin’s supporters have expressed dismay at the Russian president’s stand, opting to release Wagner without charge, even as paramilitaries have seized the southern military headquarters and marched on Moscow. At least 13 Russian soldiers may have died in the process.

The decision not to proceed with charges over the country’s first coup attempt in three decades was a significant turnaround as Putin condemned Prigozhin for “stabbing him in the back”.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Russian leader had decided not to prosecute Prigozhin to avoid bloodshed.

“There was a desire not to let the worst happen,” Peskov said Tuesday. “There were some promises, the agreements are being realised.” Putin “always keeps his word”.

Putin held a meeting with soldiers and security service officers on Tuesday and praised them for their role in containing the rebellion, although some of his commanders admitted they had done little.

In a ceremony outside the Kremlin’s ornate medieval Orthodox Christian churches, Putin said Russia’s security forces had “essentially stopped a civil war” and on Saturday paid tribute to the slain pilots opposing the progress of the paramilitary group Wagner. Observing a minute’s silence, he said he had “fulfilled his duty with honour”.

These people, Putin said, “stood in the way of unrest that would inevitably result in chaos”.

Wagner did not immediately confirm whether he would hand over his weapons to the Russian Defense Ministry, whose leaders have been the main target of Prigozhin’s anger for months over the invasion of Ukraine.

After attending Putin’s speech at the Kremlin on Tuesday, Viktor Zolotov, head of the National Guard and former bodyguard to the president, said they had discussed giving their units heavy weapons.

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