Vladimir Putin has thanked the Russian army for stopping “a civil war” from breaking out after the Wagner Group’s 24-hour mutiny at the weekend.
Speaking at the Kremlin, the Russian president told up to 2,500 members of the military, the security forces, and the National Guard that they had saved the country from chaos.
The mutiny ended following a Belarus-brokered deal between the Kremlin and the Wagner boss.
Mr Putin said: “You have defended the constitutional order, the lives, security and freedom of our citizens. You have saved our Motherland from upheaval. In fact, you have stopped a civil war.”
In further remarks on Tuesday, he said Russia’s “enemies” would have taken advantage of the situation if the mutiny had succeeded and added the Wagner mercenary group was entirely financed by the Russian state.
Mr Putin was joined on Tuesday by Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu, whose dismissal had been one of the mutineers’ main demands.
The Russian president said the state spent 86bn roubles ($1bn) on the group between May 2022 and May 2023.
Previously, the Russian government has denied involvement with the group and insisted it did not legally exist because private military contractors are technically illegal in Russia.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko confirmed Prigozhin is in Belarus after Saturday’s mutiny.
US intelligence official, senate Intelligence Chair Mark Warner, told Sky’s US partner NBC News he is reportedly in “one of the only hotels in Minsk that does not have any windows”.
The 62-year-old has not been seen in public since Saturday, when he was driven out of the Russian city of Rostov after he ordered his men to stand down.
Flight tracking data showed a Russian-registered business jet linked to Prigozhin flew to Belarus from Russia early on Tuesday, according to Fightradar24. The Embraer Legacy 600 jet is linked to Prigozhin in US sanctions documents.
Following the mutiny, Prigozhin insisted it was not an attempt to “overthrow the government” and that he decided to halt the advance on Moscow to avoid bloodshed.
On Tuesday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the long-standing tensions between the Russian army and Wagner had been mismanaged and said he ordered the Belarusian army to be at full combat readiness.
He told reporters on Tuesday: “Do not make a hero out of me, neither of me nor of Putin nor of Prigozhin, because we let the situation slip from our hands, and then we thought that it would resolve itself, but it did not.
“And two people who were fighting at the front collided. There are no heroes in this case.
Belarus allowed Russia to use its territory as a launchpad for its invasion of Ukraine last February and Mr Lukashenko remains a close ally of Mr Putin.
Prigozhin has been a vocal critic of the Kremlin’s military’s elite – mainly Mr Shoigu and the chief of general staff, Valery Gerasimov – who he has accused of failing to provide his fighters with enough ammunition in the battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.