Putin met Prigozhin for talks after mutiny - Kremlin
President Vladimir Putin held Kremlin talks with Wagner mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin days after denouncing an armed mutiny he had led as treasonous, Putin's spokesperson said on Monday, as Russia's top general resurfaced for the first time.
The meeting with Prigozhin, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, was held on 29 June, five days after the aborted mutiny, which is widely regarded to have posed the most serious challenge to Putin since he assumed the presidency on the last day of 1999.
Much of what happened on June 24, the day of the mutiny, and how the authorities are handling its aftermath remains unclear.
One of the biggest mysteries is why Prigozhin does not yet appear to have fulfilled the terms of the deal which ended the standoff, what his future plans and those of his fighters are, and why he does not appear to have been punished by the Kremlin.
The fact that Prigozhin and his top field commanders sat down with Putin in the Kremlin days after the Russian leader called their actions a treasonous "stab in the back" which could have pushed Russia into a chaotic civil war is certain to raise more questions about what is going on behind the scenes.
Peskov, Putin's spokesman, told reporters that Putin had invited 35 people to the three-hour meeting, including Prigozhin and Wagner unit field commanders.
"The only thing we can say is that the president gave his assessment of the company's (Wagner's) actions at the front during the Special Military Operation (in Ukraine) and also gave his assessment of the events of 24 June (the day of the mutiny)," Peskov told reporters.
He said Putin had listened to the commanders' own explanations of what had happened and had offered them further options for employment and combat.
The brief mutiny saw Wagner fighters seize control of the southern city of Rostov-on-Don along with its military headquarters building and shoot down an unspecified number of military helicopters, killing their pilots.
Peskov said Wagner commanders had reaffirmed their loyalty to Putin at the Kremlin meeting.
"They (the commanders) emphasised that they are staunch supporters and soldiers of the head of state and the supreme commander-in-chief. They also said that they are ready to continue fighting for the Motherland," Peskov said.
The mutiny, which Putin had compared to the turmoil in the run-up to the 1917 Russian Revolution, was defused in a deal brokered by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
Putin and the Kremlin have since sought to project a business-as-usual image, with the president chairing a range of meetings, visiting crowds in Dagestan and even hosting a young girl for a guided tour of the Kremlin.
In another twist, Russia's top general, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, made his first appearance in public since the failed mutiny.
Footage released by the defence ministry on Monday but apparently shot a day earlier showed Gerasimov ordering subordinates to destroy Ukrainian missile sites.
The footage indicates that Putin has for now kept his two most powerful military men, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gerasimov, in their posts despite demands from Prigozhin to sack them over alleged incompetence.
Sitting in a military command centre on a white leather seat chairing a meeting with top generals, Gerasimov, 67, was shown asking for and then listening to a report by Viktor Afzalov, deputy in the aerospace forces to General Sergei Surovikin.
Surovikin has not been since in public since the mutiny amid unconfirmed reports he had been detained for questioning.
Gerasimov was shown being told that a Ukrainian missile attack on Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and on the Rostov and Kaluga regions had been thwarted on Sunday, and shown ordering how Russia should respond.
He asked the aerospace forces and GRU military intelligence to identify "the storage sites and launch positions of the missiles and other enemy strike weapons to plan a preemptive strike".
For months before the mutiny, Prigozhin had been openly insulting Gerasimov and Shoigu, using a variety of crude expletives that shocked top Russian officials, but which were left unanswered in public by Putin, Shoigu and Gerasimov.
Prigozhin said Putin's top military men would be forced to eat the guts of fallen soldiers in hell for what he alleged was the incompetent and treasonous way they were running what Moscow calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine.
In the week leading up to the mutiny, Prigozhin stepped up his attacks on Shoigu, dissecting the Russian justification for the war and accusing the defence ministry of lying to Putin about both the causes and conduct of the war.
Prigozhin said his mutiny was aimed at settling scores with Shoigu and Gerasimov, not at seizing power or challenging Putin.