MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin yesterday paid tribute to pilots who were killed during the failed weekend mutiny, confirming earlier reports by military bloggers that several planes were shot down by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner militia.
Wagner fighters on Saturday took control of the southern city of Rostov-on-Don and its military command centre steering the Ukraine campaign, then driving an armed convoy within 200km of Moscow before aborting their insurrection.
“The courage and self-sacrifice of the fallen heroes-pilots saved Russia from tragic devastating consequences,” Putin said in his first public address about the mutiny since the weekend events.
There has been no official information about how many pilots died or how many aircraft were shot down.
Some Russian Telegram channels monitoring Russia’s military activity, including the blog Rybar with more than a million subscribers, reported on Saturday that 13 Russian pilots were killed during the day-long mutiny.
Among the aircraft downed were three Mi-8 MTPR electronic warfare helicopters, and an Il-18 aircraft with its crew, Rybar reported.
Reuters could not independently verify the reports. It was also not clear in what circumstances the aircraft were shot down and pilots killed.
Putin said he had deliberately let Saturday’s mutiny go on as long as it did to avoid bloodshed, blaming Wagner for the deaths that did occur.
“They lied to them, they pushed them to death: under fire, to shoot their own,” Putin said.
Without mentioning Prigozhin’s name in his speech, Putin said Wagner fighters who decided not to sign contracts with the army under a Defence Ministry order could either relocate to Belarus or simply return to their families.
One senior Russian lawmaker, however, called for punishment.
“I believe that forgiveness should not apply to those rebels who killed the pilots, in fact, their comrades-in-arms,” lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, who has been involved in a number of negotiations related to Moscow’s campaign in Ukraine.
“These people should be brought to justice and suffer the most severe punishment.” — Reuters