How Russia’s State Media Reacted to the Wagner Revolt - The World News

How Russia’s State Media Reacted to the Wagner Revolt

The opening line of the Kremlin’s flagship weekly news program on Sunday night made the official position clear regarding the 24-hour mutiny staged by Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the mercenary leader who sent his troops marching on Moscow only to pull them back at the last moment.

“Armed mutiny in Russia is not supported by the society,” said Dmitry Kiselyov, the anchor and senior Kremlin propagandist whose program — Vesti Nedelu or “News of the Week” — sets the tone for the government monopoly on broadcast news. “Treason in the time of war is a grave crime.”

The newscast then showed in full Mr. Putin’s vehement, 5-minute speech from Saturday morning, in which he accused Mr. Prigozhin, without mentioning his name, of stabbing Russia in the back.

Within hours of that address, the vows that Mr. Prigozhin would face criminal prosecution for his actions had evaporated. All news outlets carried the statement from Dmitri S. Peskov, the presidential spokesman, who broke the dramatic tension by announcing a behind-the-scenes deal credited to President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of neighboring Belarus. In exchange for standing down, Mr. Prigozhin was granted safe passage out of the country and his troops were forgiven.

Mr. Kiselyov’s lengthy report on Sunday night suggested that Mr. Prigozhin had found little popular support for his uprising and resorted to flowery language to describe its about-face: “The armored column ran out of petrol and the feeling that the head of mutineers, Prigozhin, was about to evaporate into bloody steam, strengthened.”

In short, the program concluded that Mr. Prigozhin was a traitor whose act of defiance meant very little in the face of Russian unity.

NTV, another state-run channel, echoed the same theme on its weekly roundup, calling the uprising a betrayal. It hinted at the involvement of foreign powers — the Kremlin’s default boogeyman — by referring to reports that American intelligence was aware of the brewing rebellion but did not speak out.

While state television is the main source of news for the older generation, younger Russians rely on Telegram, a social media app, that was flooded with news and commentary — not all of it reliable.

An influential group of pro-war bloggers who have been supportive yet critical of the war effort, found themselves in a bind. They were caught between their admiration for Mr. Prigozhin and his mercenary army and their dismay over the wounds his rebellion had opened.

One blogger, Yuri Kotenok, wondered aloud on Telegram on Sunday where the military leadership had disappeared to during the crisis. The main targets of Mr. Prigozhin’s ire — the defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, and the military chief of staff, Valery V. Gerasimov — have not been seen or heard from since the rebellion began.

“On the day when this happened, where were you?” he wrote. “Or can you only shoot videos when there is no threat to give the president a show? Come to your senses, this is not a show. The country has been at war for a year now.”

Even as analysts outside Russia suggested the brief revolts had immeasurably damaged the reputation of President Vladimir V. Putin as infallible and invincible, the Russian government media predictably cast the day as an overall win for Moscow.

But a few Russian voices suggested that the problems revealed by the mutiny needed to be addressed.

Moskovsky Komsomolets, a scrappy tabloid, featured the headline “Prigozhin Leaves, Problems Remain: Deep Political Consequences of a Failed Coup.” (Mr. Prigozhin maintained that he was not fomenting a coup, merely trying to force a change of the top military leadership.)

The tabloid suggested that “the highest power in the country” had created the problem by allowing illegal militias to flourish, weakening the state’s monopoly on violence.

Everyone had been puzzled by the impunity with which Mr. Prigozhin had been allowed to criticize the top military brass, the tabloid said. (Independent analysts outside Russia noted that ordinary protesters get lengthy jail terms for similar statements, but that went unmentioned in the state-run outlets.)

“This created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty and trampled down the reputation of the authorities,” wrote Mikhail Rostovsky, a columnist, adding that the mutiny showed to the world that Russia was vulnerable.

“Yevgeny Prigozhin will go to Belarus, but the problems created by him (to be fair: not only by him) will remain,” the columnist said, “Solving them will be oh so difficult.”

Alina Lobzina and Milana Mazaeva contributed reporting.

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