The head of the Wagner Group claimed on Monday that he had not planned to overthrow the Russian government in the group’s weekend march on Moscow but instead wanted to “voice protest” and prevent the paramilitary company from being disbanded.
On Telegram, Yevgeny Prigozhin said the Russian Defense Ministry had planned to sign contracts by July 1 with all Wagner fighters, making the group part of the regular army, which, according to Prigozhin, “would destroy its combat capability.”
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In May the ministry announced that it planned to sign contracts with all combatants in Ukraine fighting under the Russian flag, saying this was the only legal way to ensure their rights, including the right for social support, and the provision of ammunition and equipment.
According to Prigozhin, only 1-2% of Wagner militants agreed to join the Russian army under the contract, and the rest on Saturday formed a column which set off to the city of Rostov-on-Don in Saturday’s “March of Justice,” which he said had “peaceful purposes.”
However, the procession was hit with missiles shot from helicopters, killing some 30 people, Prigozhin claimed, saying Russian military chiefs were responsible.
In response, the Wagner Group carried out strikes at the Russian Air Force, he said, without specifying how many people were killed.
“We stopped at the moment when the first detachment approached Moscow, deployed artillery, conducted reconnaissance and it became clear that blood would be shed.
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“We stopped because of two factors. The first is that we did not want to shed Russian blood. The second one – we went to demonstrate our protest, and not to overthrow the government in the country,” he claimed.
When the Wagner Group was some 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Moscow, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko “extended a helping hand and offered to find other opportunities to work in a legal jurisdiction,” Prigozhin said.
He said his march showed problems in Russia’s defense and the inefficiency of the Russian military commanders, claiming that if on Feb. 24, 2022, when Russia forces entered Ukraine, the offensive had been led by a group comparable in level of training with Wagner, then “the operation would have lasted one day.”