Former Putin ally, who launched weekend revolt, agrees to relocate to Belarus
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Russian President Vladimir Putin has spent more than 20 years crushing opponents. So what does he do after an opponent appeared in his inner circle?
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Over the weekend, Yevgeny Prigozhin sent convoys of armed men toward Moscow. Prigozhin had used his ties to Putin to rise to wealth and power. And then he and the mercenaries he'd been leading in Russia's war against Ukraine turned against the government. Putin quickly defused the crisis by letting his former friend slip away to Belarus. We don't know how much the crisis has shaken Putin's power.
INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Myre is following this from Kyiv.
Hey there, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Yeah. Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: What is Putin saying now?
MYRE: Well, pretty much nothing. After this huge day of chaos on Saturday, Russia has largely gone quiet. We aren't seeing or hearing from either Russian leader Vladimir Putin or the mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin - the two main players.
Now, Putin spoke briefly on Russian TV Saturday morning. He promised decisive action after Prigozhin's fighters began on this highway up to - toward Moscow. But he's now been out of sight for more than 48 hours. State TV ran a brief interview with him Sunday, but this was taped before the weekend, so we don't know where he is or what his next move will be.
One other quick note, Russia's defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, who's also been invisible in recent days, visited Russian troops in Ukraine to get a briefing according to Russia's defense ministry.
INSKEEP: Oh, now, that's significant since Prigozhin was saying that he was protesting against that defense minister. So he at least makes an appearance. How does this all look to people in Ukraine, where you are?
MYRE: Yeah. When the events were unfolding Saturday, there was a sort of running commentary from just about everyone. One social media video in particular went viral. It showed this well-known soldier sitting in his military truck in the field, watching the media reports from Russia. And he was munching on these three huge tubs of popcorn. So the Ukrainians were really very interested observers. But with the rebellion in Russia over, the attention has really turned back to the fighting in Ukraine. President Zelenskyy and other leaders are saying this just confirms what Ukraine has been saying all along. Russia is weak and fractured, and the only permanent solution is to drive out all the Russian troops.
INSKEEP: As best you can tell, has Putin's government regained control of the Wagner mercenaries?
MYRE: It's really hard to say with any definite - in any definite way, so I don't want to speculate too much. What we do know is that Prigozhin gave an order for his troops to return to their camps, either in Ukraine or in southern Russia. There's been no indication that they're causing any trouble at the moment, but we haven't heard from Prigozhin either since, on Saturday night, he announced that he would be leaving Russia, going to Belarus. We don't know if he's still in Russia, if he's gone to Belarus. So he's gone quiet as well. And for the moment, his troops are quiet.
INSKEEP: Does all of this change Ukraine's plans for the war?
MYRE: Well, you know, it certainly comes at an opportune moment for the Ukrainians. They've just begun this offensive. It's now in its third week. I think a big question they'll be trying to sort out is, what happens to these mercenary fighters in the Wagner Group who've played such an important role? Will they be disbanded, which appears likely? Will some be folded into the Russian army? Quite possible. So for the moment, the fighting continues as it's been going, but it's likely to have some ramifications further down the road.
INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Myre. Thanks so much. Really appreciate it.
MYRE: Sure thing, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.