Three weeks after a brief uprising in Russia by the Wagner mercenary group, President Vladimir V. Putin said its troops could continue fighting, but without their controversial leader, while the government of Belarus said some Wagner fighters were there, training its forces.

The future of Wagner and its staff, which played a major role in Mr Putin’s war against Ukraine, remains in doubt, part of the dissension and turmoil in the Russian military hierarchy that has spilled into public view since the uprising. But the Russian leader made it clear that he intended to sideline Wagner boss Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, who led the rebellion.

Mr. Putin, in an interview published late Thursday, reported a three-hour meeting in the Kremlin, just days after the uprising, with Mr. Prigozhin and his top commanders. Mr. Putin, who has sought since the uprising to demonstrate his unassailable control over state affairs, portrayed himself in the interview as a calm arbiter towering over the turmoil, and portrayed the uprising as a minor internal dispute that he had resolved.

He said he praised Wagner fighters for their military exploits, and suggested that another Wagner leader take over from Mr. Prigozhin, according to Kommersant, a Russian business daily that, along with a state television journalist, conducted the interview. He said he told the Wagner troops that he was “sorry that they seemed to have been dragged” into the rebellion, appearing to blame Mr. Prigozhin.

“I outlined the possible paths for their future military service, including in combat,” Mr. Putin said. “Many nodded as I spoke,” he added, but Mr. Prigozhin, who he said was sitting in the front and did not see the nod, replied that the “guys do not agree with such a decision.”

The government ordered Wagner troops who intend to fight on to sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense, effectively becoming part of Russia’s regular military, something Mr. Prigozhin bitterly protested. But Mr Putin’s latest comments appeared to leave open the possibility that Wagner units could continue to exist.

Mr. Putin wants to draw a sharp distinction between Wagner fighters, whose experience and expertise he can exploit, and the mercenary leader, whom he now sees as reckless and untrustworthy, according to Tatiana Stanovaya, a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“They want to keep the core of Wagner but under a different leadership that is clearly much more loyal, and even controllable,” Ms. Stanovaya said in a telephone interview.

“That meeting was a sign of reconciliation; not in the sense that the conflict is over, but in the sense that now there are rules of the game — you have to follow them,” she added.

A Kremlin spokesman first disclosed the meeting earlier this week, saying the Wagner commanders had aired their concerns – a striking admission given that days earlier, Mr Putin had denounced the leaders of the rebellion as traitors.

President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, who helped broker the end of Wagner’s rebellion on June 24, said soon after that his country would welcome its fighters, and the Belarusian military quickly set up tents for thousands of soldiers at a disused base nine miles away from. the town of Asipovichy, about 50 miles southeast of the capital, Minsk. But last week, Mr Lukashenko said there were still no Wagner troops in Belarus, and the military invited foreign journalists to the camp to show it was unoccupied.

On Friday, however, the Belarusian defense ministry said in a statement that Wagner soldiers are teaching members of the Belarusian military about defense and battlefield tactics. A state television channel aired a video of what its correspondent said was training of Wagner fighters “at a training base near Asipovichy,” but the affiliations of the soldiers in the video could not be independently verified. A spokesman for the ministry of defense confirmed that at least part of the video was taken in the same location as the new camp.

Mr. Lukashenko, increasingly dependent and subordinate to Mr. Putin, made it clear that he would like to have an experienced fighting force like Wagner at his disposal. In late June, in comments shown on state television, he urged his defense minister, Viktor Khrenin, to take advantage of the opportunity.

“They will tell you about weapons – which worked well, which didn’t,” Mr Lukashenko said. “And tactics, and weapons, and how to attack, how to defend. It is priceless.”

Mr. Prigozhin said his rebellion was not aimed at toppling Mr. Putin, but at removing the military leaders in Moscow whom he had spent months denouncing as incompetent in foul-mouthed tirades that the president tolerated. After sending an armored column rolling towards the capital, he called off their advance after receiving assurances that he and the Wagner troops would not be punished.

The Pentagon said Thursday that Wagner’s troops are believed to be no longer fighting in a major capacity in Ukraine. And the Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that Wagner fighters had given up many of their weapons and equipment.

With the mercenaries apparently inactive and largely disarmed, the Kremlin made a clear attempt to diminish the role of their unruly leader. Mr. Prigozhin’s media empire, including several news websites, was shut down, and his St. Petersburg mansion was a regular feature of Russian state television, which portrayed its owner as a petty and immoral thug hoarding cash, weapons, passports and maybe. drugs

There were also signs of a shake-up strengthening the military’s grip, which Mr. Prigozhin deplored. General Sergei V. Surovikin, head of the Russian air forces and former head of forces in Ukraine, seen as a Prigozhin ally, is said to have known in advance of the uprising and has not been seen publicly since; a top MP said this week that the general was “resting”.

On Wednesday night, a recording was released of Major General Ivan Popov accusing his superiors of undermining the war effort with dishonesty, and telling his soldiers that he had been removed from command of the Russian army in Ukraine for daring to speak the truth about it. the faulty conduct of the war. Other commanders were said to have been questioned or arrested, at least briefly.

So far the unrest does not appear to be helping Ukrainian forces as they fight to retake territory in a slow-moving counteroffensive that began in early June.

Russia has launched several waves of attack drones at Ukrainian cities in recent days, including overnight into Friday morning, and continues to shell cities within artillery range. The Ukrainian authorities said on Friday that they had shot down 16 of 17 drones overnight.

Mr Putin identified as possible Wagner’s new leader a man known as “Sedoi”, or “Grey-Haired”, who the president said had been the de facto commander of Wagner forces since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. European Union Sanctions documentsWagner-bound bloggersand Russian media outlets identified Sedoi as Andrei N. Troshev, a veteran of wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya. The sanctions documents referred to to Mr. Troshev as “founder” and “managing director” of Wagner.

Mr. Putin has maintained an ambiguous stance on Wagner’s future, apparently leaving his options open. Days after the uprising, he said Russia had paid Wagner nearly $1 billion in one year, but in the interview reported by Kommersant, he said Wagner “doesn’t exist,” at least legally.

“We don’t have a law on private military organizations,” Mr Putin said. “There is no such legal entity.”

Valerie Hopkins contributed reporting.

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