Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Moscow had paid out last year just over $1 billion to the Wagner mercenary group, which last week staged a failed mutiny.
“The state paid to the Wagner group 86.262 billion rubles (around $1 billion) for salaries for fighters and incentive rewards between May 2022 and May 2023 alone,” Putin said.
He was speaking to defence officials in televised remarks at the start of a meeting.
Russia once denied the very existence of Wagner, a shadowy mercenary army that defends Moscow’s interests with operations in several African and Middle Eastern states.
But since its fighters became one of the mainstays of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, Wagner’s chief — former Kremlin catering contractor Yevgeny Prigozhin — has gone public.
On Saturday, Wagner launched a revolt — ostensibly to resist efforts to fold it into the official ministry of defence structure — seized an army headquarters and marched on Moscow.
Putin has condemned this as a betrayal, and ordered that Wagner lose its heavy weaponry, while its fighters either join the regular armed forces or accept exile in Belarus.
And by revealing the huge scale of official spending on Wagner’s services, Putin has confirmed that it has effectively been acting as an arm of the state.
“The content of the entire Wagner group was fully provided by the state, from the Ministry of Defence, from the state budget. We fully funded this group,” Putin said.
That Wagner’s leaders now be portrayed as traitors is a turn around for Russian state messaging. Previously the group enjoyed heroic status as part of the Ukraine offensive.
Even while criticising Wagner in the wake of Saturday’s revolt, Putin was clear not to attack rank-and-file troops, “because they really showed courage and heroism”.