Vladimir Putin sensationally said that the Wagner group "does not exist" after a meeting with 35 of its top commanders in Moscow.
The Russian President met with the group's leaders just days after it staged a short-lived mutiny led by Yevgeny Prigozhin on June 24.
And in a chat with Russian newspaper Kommersant, the 70-year-old detailed what was discussed at the meeting and also made an eyebrow-raising claim.
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"Well, Wagner PMC does not exist!" Putin told the publication. "We do not have a law for private military organisations! It simply does not exist!"
"There is no such legal entity," Putin added.
He then conceded: "The group exists, but legally it does not exist!
"This is a separate issue related to actual legalisation. But this is a question that should be discussed in the State Duma, in the government. It's not an easy question."
He said that at the meeting a discussion was had around what "possible options for their further service" the Wagner fighters could explore.
The Russian dictator stated that a commander who goes by his nom de guerre "Sedoi" – or "grey hair" could take over command, snubbing Prigozhin completely.
Putin said: "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.
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"Thirdly, I showed them possible options for their further service, including the use of their combat experience. That was it."
Putin said the group could "have been led by the same person who had been their real commander all that time," to which fighters present reportedly nodded.
Reports state that Prigozhin was there and did not see this. "'No, the boys won't agree with such a decision'," Putin quoted Prigozhin as saying.
The world watched with baited breath as Wagner fighters under Prigozhin descended on Moscow last month after taking other strategic points.
However, Prigozhin announced that he and his band of ex cons would stop short on the capital in a bid to avoid spilling Russian blood.
It was predicted by experts and commentators alike that heads would roll and Priogzhin could expect harsh treatment, but he is believed to be still alive and in exile in neighbouring Belarus.
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