Yevgeny Prigozhin has spoken for the first time since his Wagner Group mutiny ended in a murky peace deal, expressing “regret” for shooting down Russian military planes but saying he was given no choice.

Wagner’s boss, normally prolific in posting posters, had been conspicuously silent a day and a half after abruptly halting his march on the Russian capital following an alleged deal brokered by the Belarusian president.

But in an audio message posted on Monday on his official press channel on Telegram – more than 11 minutes long – the mercenary leader explained that he had decided not to enter Moscow to avoid certain bloodshed. He intended to make a point clear: “We went to manifest our protest, not to overthrow the Government.”

Prigozhin welcomed the intervention of Belarusian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko, who he said “reached out” and offered to find a way for Wagner to continue operating “in a legitimate jurisdiction.” He did not confirm that he has agreed to go into exile in Belarus, as claimed by the Russian authorities, nor did he offer any indication of his current whereabouts.

Nor did he apologize for his mutiny, saying only that he was sorry that he had been forced by circumstances to participate in an armed rebellion.

“We are sorry that we had to attack air assets, but those assets were launching bombs and missiles,” Prigozhin said. And in a hint to his enemies in the military establishment, he argued that if the Russian armed forces had been able to advance into Ukraine as quickly as Wagner’s had advanced into Russia itself – taking the city of Rostov-on-Don, the seat of a military command center and more than a million people, and putting it a short distance from the capital – “then, perhaps, the special operation would have lasted a day.”

According to the guerrilla leader, whose forces have served as shock troops in Ukraine and have fanned out across Africa, he launched his “march for justice” to preserve his private military company in the face of an attempt to absorb his fighters by the Defense Ministry. Russian, who had announced the effective assumption of said mercenary forces on July 1. He also wanted to hold the Russian military leadership to account, namely Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

“The goal of the campaign was not to allow the destruction of Wagner’s PMC and to bring to justice those individuals who, through their unprofessional behavior, made a large number of mistakes,” Prigozhin said, insisting that “public opinion demanded it.”

Charles R Davis