“Such a legal entity as PMC Wagner does not exist and never existed. This is a legal issue that needs to be explored,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.
Peskov refused to disclose any further details on the meeting between Wagner head Yengeny Prigozhin and Putin, which reportedly took place several days after the aborted rebellion, in late June.
Separately, Peskov also refused to comment on Russian general Ivan Popov, who claimed this week that he was suddenly fired after accusing Moscow’s defense ministry leadership of betraying its soldiers by providing insufficient support.
Peskov added Popov’s dismissal is a “military topic” for the Ministry of Defense to comment on.
On Thursday, Putin described for the first time what was discussed at a Kremlin event attended by 35 Wagner commanders, including Prigozhin.
The meeting was held on June 29, just days after Wagner fighters launched a short-lived mutiny against Moscow.
“On the one hand, at the meeting I gave an assessment of what they had done on the battlefield (in Ukraine), and on the other hand, of what they had done during the events of June 24. Thirdly, I showed them possible options for their further service, including the use of their combat experience. That was it,” he added.
Putin, who was being interviewed by Russian newspaper Kommersant, was asked if Wagner would be retained as a fighting unit.
“Well, Wagner PMC does not exist!” Putin exclaimed. “We do not have a law for private military organizations! It simply does not exist!” he continued.
“There is no such legal entity,” Putin explained.
“The group exists, but legally it does not exist!” Putin repeated in the interview, adding, “This is a separate issue related to actual legalization. But this is a question that should be discussed in the State Duma, in the government. It’s not an easy question.”
Putin said he offered the 35 Wagner commanders multiple employment options, including one under the leadership of their direct commander, who goes by the call sign Sedoy [Grey hair] – a man under whom Wagner fighters had fought for the past 16 months.
“They could have all gathered in one place and continued to serve,” Putin stated, “and nothing would have changed for them. They would be led by the same person who has been their real commander all along.”