Now you see Wagner, now you don’t.
Weeks after an armed uprising by the Russian mercenary group Wagner revealed cracks in Russia’s system of one-man rule, the Kremlin has been on a PR offensive. The message is simple: "Russian President Vladimir Putin is firmly in control, now please move along."
In an interview Thursday with the Russian business daily newspaper Kommersant, Putin described a three-hour meeting with Wagner commanders, including the group’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, just days after the private military company (PMC) made its abortive march on Moscow last month.
Putin put a positive spin on the meeting, but made a curious admission.
“Wagner PMC does not exist,” Putin said when asked if Wagner would be kept on as a fighting unit. “We do not have a law for private military organizations. It simply does not exist.”
Putin, who is a trained lawyer, reiterated the point during the interview: “There is no such legal entity,” he said.
Technically, Putin is correct. Article 359 of Russia’s Criminal Code outlaws mercenary activity. The law states that “recruitment, training, financing or other material support of a mercenary, as well as their participation in an armed conflict or military operations” carries heavy criminal penalties.
Putin went on to explain in the interview that the State Duma — Russia’s parliament — should consider legislation to legalize PMCs, conceding, “It’s not an easy question.”
This legalistic answer, however, raises more questions than answers. If Wagner was technically an illegal entity all this time, who authorized its use? Who trained and equipped them? And who signed off on their budget?
The issue is about more than Putin’s cavalier approach to the rule of law. It also serves as a reminder that Putin is the pioneer of a post-truth world.
Read more about the rift between the Kremlin and Wagner here: