Where Are The Russians? Putin, Prigozhin, Shoigu Still MIA After Bodged ‘Coup’

OLIVER JJ LANE 26 Jun 2023

The prominent players in Saturday’s dramatic Russian apparent failed coup attempt remain elusive days later, with even new videos of Defence Minister Shoigu and President Putin being of unclear origin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to survive an attempted coup — or at least an armed effort to force the resignation of his defence minister, who was accused of corruption and incompetence — on Saturday, but the key players in that intrigue appear to have not actually broken cover since.

Even during the events of the weekend President Putin himself was little seen, only breaking cover to make a brief address to the Russian people on Saturday morning, vowing harsh punishment on mutineers. He has not been seen in public in several days.

Despite that, Russian press releases have attempted to give the impression of business as usual. Per Russian state media outlet Tass, Putin had a call with the President of Iran to talk energy policy on Monday. The Kremlin also published a new video of the President addressing the ‘Engineers of the Future 2023’ youth event.

It is not known exactly when or where the video was recorded, but it is possible it could be a pre-record. Putin’s relaxed body language and smile as he wished school and college students taking part in the programme luck, and the fact absolutely no reference was made to Russia’s political crisis, may offer some clues.

Per the Wall Street Journal, while Putin’s spokesman insists the President is still in the Kremlin, flight tracking data shows two of Putin’s jets departed Moscow and headed to St. Petersburg on Saturday.

Also appearing today in a new video that, some allege, is likely a pre-record released now to present a face of calm is Putin’s Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu. He was likely the main target of Friday’s rebellion and is the subject of a long-held hatred of Wagner PMC leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.

It has been widely speculated that one of the prices of Prigozhin turning his army around at the weekend was the removal of Shoigu as Minister of Defence, making his absence all the more conspicuous. As if to meet those speculations head-on, the Ministry published a new video of Shoigu — allegedly visiting the front lines — on Monday

While this footage would indicate he retains Putin’s confidence and place in the government, it remains the case the video is of unclear provenance in terms of time and place. Showing Shoigu inside a helicopter and a military command centre, it is hard to tell when the footage was recorded. As reported by The Guardian, some have noted Shoigu visited Russian forces on Friday before the so-called coup began, and therefore the video could have been made then.

The final figure in this drama is Wagner PMC leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, himself, who if not dead already has been reportedly banished to Belarus as part of the agreement for ending the Wagner “march for justice” on Moscow. The mercenary warlord was last seen being driven out of Rostov-on-Don in the back of a car smiling and joking as he and his forces evacuated the city.

Top Russian figures have called for heavy justice on Prigozhin, including Putin himself, who promised severe punishment in his televised address on Saturday morning. What exactly was in the deal struck with Prigozhin and Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko that ended the rebellion, and to what degree the deal will be honoured by the Russian government once Prigozhin is safely out of the way, cannot yet be known.

Certainly, the initial claims of legal immunity for Prigozhin in return for standing down seem to be forgotten already, with Russia announcing Monday morning that criminal investigations into him for “armed mutiny” are ongoing. “The criminal case against Prigozhin has not been closed. The investigation is continuing”, the Prosecutor General in Moscow is reported to have said.




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