Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the Wagner mercenary group which staged a short-lived rebellion against the country's military leadership in June, "simply does not exist".
The President made the remarks to Russian newspaper Kommersant, describing for the first time what was discussed at a Kremlin meeting attended by 35 Wagner commanders, including the group's boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, reports CNN.
The meeting took place on June 29, just five days after Wagner fighters launched the short-lived mutiny on June 24.
"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," Putin was quoted as saying.
When asked if the group would be retained as a fighting unit, the President replied: "Well, Wagner PMC does not exist. We do not have a law for private military organisations. It simply does not exist. There is no such legal entity.
"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."
Putin went on to say that 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," CNN quoted the Russian leader as saying to the newspaper.
"And nothing would have changed for them. They would be led by the same person who has been their real commander all along."