Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to quell the armed insurgency after a private mercenary army led by his longtime ally Yevgeny Prigozhin took control of Rostov-on-Don. Prigozhin tries to overthrow the country’s military leadership.
In Russia’s first armed uprising since the Chechen wars, heavily armed militants from a private military company founded by Prigozhin sealed off the streets of Rostov-on-Don, a city of more than a million people near the border with Ukraine.
Prigozhin, whose private army has been involved in some of the bloodiest battles since the start of Russian aggression in Ukraine, announced the capture of the Southern Military District after the withdrawal of its mercenaries from Ukrainian territory.
In Rostov-on-Don, which serves as the main rear logistics center for participants in the Russian invasion, PMC Wagner militants occupied the city center in armored vehicles and tanks.
A Russian security force source told Reuters the Wagnerians also seized military installations in Voronezh, where the regional governor said an operation to suppress the rebellion is underway. Reuters was unable to independently confirm reports about the situation in Voronezh.
In Moscow, the presence of security forces in the streets has been reinforced. Red Square is blocked by metal barriers.
“Excessive ambitions and vested interests have led to high treason,” Putin said in a televised address. “This is a severe blow for Russia, for our people. And our actions to protect the Fatherland from such a threat will be harsh. All those who have deliberately embarked on the path of treason, who have prepared an armed rebellion , who have embarked on the path of blackmail and terrorist methods, will suffer inevitable retribution, answer both before the law and before our people.
Prigogine immediately replied that he and his men had no intention of surrendering.
“The president is making a big mistake when he talks about treason. We are patriots of our motherland, we fought and we are fighting for it,” Prigozhin said in an audio message. “We don’t want the country to continue living in corruption and deceit.”
At night, Prigozhin, in a series of frantically posted messages on Telegram, demanded that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov come to Rostov to see him.
Western leaders have said they are closely monitoring the situation in Russia, which has nuclear weapons. President Joe Biden, according to information from the White House, was informed of the course of events.
“This represents the most significant challenge for the Russian state in recent times,” the UK Ministry of Defense said. “In the next few hours, the loyalty of Russian security forces, and in particular the Russian National Guard, will be key to the unfolding of this crisis.”
PMC Wagner mercenaries took part in the fiercest battles of the 16-month war in Ukraine, including the bloody battle for Bakhmut.
For several months, Prigozhin railed against the senior leadership of the Russian military, accusing the generals of being incompetent and failing to supply ammunition to his mercenaries. This month it ignored an order to sign a contract that its fighters were to become subordinate to the Russian Defense Ministry.
Prigozhin mutinied on Friday after claiming the Russian military had killed “many” Wagnerian mercenaries in an airstrike. The Ministry of Defense denied this allegation.
“The Council of Commanders of the PMC Wagner has made a decision: the evil of the country’s military leadership must be stopped. They are neglecting the lives of soldiers, they have forgotten the word “justice”, and we will return it! Therefore, those who destroyed our guys today, destroyed tens, tens of thousands of Russian soldiers’ lives, will be punished! said Prigozhin.
“We are 25,000 people and we are going to find out why the country is in chaos,” he said, promising to destroy any forces that stand in the way of the Wagnerians. Prigozhin later said his men got involved in clashes with regular soldiers and shot down the helicopter.
The FSB opened a criminal case against Prigozhin in connection with the armed rebellion and said that he had called for the “initiation of an armed civil conflict on the territory of Russia”.
Around 2 a.m., Prigozhin posted a message on Telegram saying that his troops were in Rostov and were ready to “go all the way” against the top army leadership and destroy anyone who got in their way. .
Prigozhin denies allegations of an attempted military coup. He said he led his fighters out of Ukraine to Rostov-on-Don and posted a video showing him talking casually to two generals at the headquarters of the Southern Military District.
“We came here, we want to receive the Chief of the General Staff and Shoigu. If they don’t come, we will be there, we will block the city of Rostov and we will go to Moscow,” he said. stated in the video.
Army Lieutenant General Vladimir Alekseev posted a video message asking Prigozhin to reconsider his actions.
“Only the president has the right to appoint the senior leadership of the armed forces, and you are trying to encroach on his powers,” he said.
An unverified video on a Telegram channel promoting Prigozhin’s interests featured an alleged scene of an airstrike on the Wagnerians. The video showed a forest with broken trees, in which small fires were burning. Other than footage of the presumed dead mercenary, there is no other evidence of an attack.
The video was accompanied by the text: “A missile attack was carried out on the PMC Wagner camps. Many victims. According to eyewitnesses, the strike was launched from the rear, that is, it was launched by the Russian Ministry of the Army.
The Russian Ministry of Defense has denied this allegation.
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