Russian mercenary chief says his army is in rebellion, some have left Ukraine and entered Russian cities – Wake-up call

Associated Press

The owner of the Wagner Private Military Contractor has made the most direct challenge yet to the Kremlin, calling for an armed insurgency aimed at ousting the Russian Defense Minister. Security officials responded immediately, demanding the arrest of Evgeny Prigozhin.

In a sign of how seriously the Kremlin is taking this threat, security has been increased in Moscow and Rostov-on-Don, which houses the Russian military command in the southern region and also oversees the fighting in Ukraine.

The outcome of the clash was not yet clear, but it seemed likely that the clash would further hamper Moscow’s war effort, as Kiev forces were probing Russia’s defenses in the early stages of a counteroffensive. This controversy, especially if Prigozhin succeeds, could also affect his ability to maintain a united front with President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Prigozhin claimed early Saturday morning that his army had entered Russia from Ukraine and arrived in Rostov-on-Don, where he was not met by young conscripts at checkpoints and that his army “is not fighting children”. said.

“But we will destroy anyone who stands in our way,” he said in one of a series of angry videos and audio recordings posted on social media late Friday. “We are moving forward and we will do our best until the end.”

He claimed that the Chief of the General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov, scrambled fighter planes to attack Wagner’s convoy, which was running alongside civilian vehicles. Prigozhin also said his troops shot down a Russian military helicopter that opened fire on a civilian convoy, although there was no independent confirmation.

And despite Prigozhin’s statement that the Wagner convoy had entered Rostov-on-Don, there was still no confirmation of it on Russian social networks. Videos posted online showed armored vehicles, including tanks, being deployed on the streets and troops moving into position, whether they were under Wagner’s command or not. It was unknown if there was. Earlier, heavy trucks were seen blocking highways leading into the city, and long convoys of National Guard trucks were seen cruising the roads.

The governor of the Voronezh region, just to the north, told residents that a line of military vehicles was moving along the main highway and advised them to stay on the road.

Prigozhin said the Wagner camp in Ukraine was hit with rockets, helicopter gunships and artillery on orders from Gerasimov after meeting with Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, who decided to destroy Wagner.

Wagner’s forces played a key role in Russia’s war in Ukraine, successfully capturing the city of Bakhmut, the city of the longest and bloodiest battle. But Prigozhin has increasingly criticized Russian military leaders, accusing them of incompetence and starving the army of weapons and ammunition.

Prigozhin, who said he had 25,000 troops under his command, said the army would punish Shoigu for an armed rebellion and urged the army to resist, saying, “This is not a military coup, it is a march of justice.” asked not to.

The National Anti-Terrorism Commission, part of the Federal Security Service (FSB), has charged him with calling for an armed rebellion, which could carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

The FSB has urged Wagner’s contract soldiers to arrest Prigogine and refuse to follow his “criminal and dangerous orders.” The official called his remarks a “savage attack on the Russian military” and said it was tantamount to inciting armed conflict.

Putin has been informed of the situation, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “all necessary measures are being taken.”

Military lorries and armored vehicles were seen in several places in central Moscow early Saturday morning, while soldiers with assault rifles were stationed outside the main Defense Ministry building. The area around the presidential palace near Red Square was blocked, causing traffic jams.

But despite the increased military presence, downtown bars and restaurants were packed with customers. At a club near FSB headquarters, people were dancing on the street near the entrance.

Moscow’s mayor announced on Saturday morning that measures were underway to combat terrorism, including tightening road restrictions and possibly limiting large gatherings.

Prigozhin, whose feud with the Ministry of Defense dates back years, had refused to comply with demands for military contractors to sign contracts with the Ministry by July 1. In a statement late Friday, he said he was ready to find a compromise, but said “they have not yet reached an agreement.” You have betrayed us and deceived us. ”

“Today they carried out a rocket attack on our rear camp and a huge number of our comrades were killed,” he said. The Ministry of Defense denied attacking the Wagner camp.

Mr. Prigozhin claimed that Mr. Shoigu personally went to the Russian military command in Rostov-on-Don to lead the attack and then fled “cowardly”.

“We must stop the evil represented by the military leadership of this country,” he cried.

Colonel Sergei Slovikhin, deputy commander of the Russian military group fighting in Ukraine, urged Wagner’s forces to stop any movement against the army, saying it would “fall into the hands of Russian enemies waiting for the war to come.” It will happen,” he said. The domestic political situation is deteriorating. ”

Political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya predicted that this would be the end of Prigogine.

“There is no turning back now that the state is actively involved,” she tweeted. “The dismissal of Prigogine and Wagner is imminent. The only possibility at the moment is absolute annihilation, the only variable being the degree of resistance from the Wagner group. Slovikin has been dispatched to persuade them to surrender. The confrontation seems completely futile.”

A senior military officer, Lieutenant General Vladimir Alekseev, denounced Prigozhin’s actions as “madness” threatening civil war.

“This is a blow to the country and the president. …Such provocations can only be carried out by Russia’s enemies,” he said.

In a statement, the defense ministry said Ukraine was taking advantage of “prigozhin’s provocations” to focus its forces on attacks around Bakhmut. Russian artillery and fighter jets have opened fire on Ukrainian forces preparing to attack.

The Institute for War Studies in Washington said, “Prigogyn appears to be entirely intent on Wagner rebelling against the Ministry of Defense leadership and forcibly removing them from power. To the Southern Military District Command in Donu, but perhaps that as well.” It’s against Moscow. ”

The newspaper added that despite Putin’s support for Prigozhin, it was highly unlikely that he would accept any armed insurgency, adding that “violent overthrow of Putin’s supporters like Shoigu and Gerasimov.” “If that happens, it will irreparably damage the perceived stability Putin holds in power.”

“We are monitoring the situation closely and will be discussing these developments with our allies and partners,” said Adam Hodge of the National Security Council at the White House.

Michael Coffman, director of Russian Studies at the CAN Research Group in Arlington, Virginia, tweeted that he felt Prigogine’s actions were “desperate.” However, much depends on whether Prigogine is alone or whether important persons join him. It is doubtful whether this will end well for him, or for Wagner. ”

In Kiev on Saturday, at least two people were killed and injured when a Russian missile attack set fire to multiple floors of a 24-story apartment building in the central district, killing and injuring at least two people, said the city’s military chief, Serhiy Popko. Posted in Telegram by Mr. .

He said more than 20 missiles were detected and destroyed. Video from the scene showed a fire on the upper floors of the building, with ash and debris scattered in the parking lot.

In another development of the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on other countries to heed warnings that Russia may be planning to attack an occupied nuclear power plant to cause a radiation disaster. rice field.

Government officials briefed international delegates on the potential threat to the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, where six reactors have been shut down for months. President Zelensky said he hoped other countries would “send the right signals and put pressure” on Moscow.

A Kremlin spokesman denied that the threat to the plant was from Russian forces.

The potential for life-threatening radiation releases has been a concern since Russian forces invaded Ukraine last year and seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. The head of the United Nations Atomic Energy Agency has spent months unsuccessfully trying to negotiate the establishment of a safety perimeter to protect the facility as the neighborhood has been subjected to frequent shelling.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said on Thursday that “the military situation is becoming increasingly tense” amid a Ukrainian counteroffensive that began this month in Zaporizhia, where the power plant of the same name is located, and neighboring Donetsk. Russian mercenary chief says his army is in rebellion, some have left Ukraine and entered Russian cities – Wake-up call

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