Putin ally says Wagner advanced so fast because focus was on defending Moscow
PHOTO CAPTION: Fighters of Wagner private mercenary group pull out of the headquarters of the Southern Military District to return to base, in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, June 24, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
MOSCOW (Reuters) - One of President Vladimir Putin's allies said on Tuesday that mutineers from the Wagner mercenary group were able to advance so fast towards Moscow because forces loyal to the state had focused on bolstering the defences of the capital.
Renegade mercenary Yevgeny Prigozhin said that his fighters marched 780 kilometers in a day to within just 200 kilometers of Moscow on Saturday, in what he said was a "master class" in how the Ukraine war should have been fought by the Russian army.
But Viktor Zolotov, a close Putin ally and director of the National Guard, gave a different interpretation.
"It is very simple: we concentrated all our strength in Moscow," said Zolotov, who served as head of the presidential bodyguard from 2000 to 2013 and was sometimes seen carrying an automatic weapon to protect Putin on dangerous trips.
Zolotov, 69, said he had been in constant contact with Putin on Friday and Saturday. The guards, he said, will in future be equipped with heavy weaponry and tanks after having to prepare to defend Russia's capital against theWagner fighters.
The National Guard, a force of more than 340,000, was set up in 2016 to ensure order and security alongside the police and security services.
Zolotov, who as a bodyguard stood beside Boris Yeltsin on a tank as he led resistance to the 1991 coup attempt by hardliners against Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, said his men had been ready to fight to the death to defend the state.
"They will all stand to the death," Zolotov said.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Gareth Jones)