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Putin promises to crush ‘armed mutiny’ as mercenary group seeks to oust military leaders

Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to crush what he called an armed mutiny after rebellious mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Saturday he had taken control of a southern city as part of an attempt to oust the military leadership. 

U.K. says Russian state now facing greatest challenge of recent times.

A man in a suit and tie looks directly at the camera. Flags with Russian colours flank him on each side.

Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to crush what he called an armed mutiny after rebellious mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Saturday he had taken control of a southern city as part of an attempt to oust the military leadership.

The dramatic turn, with many details unclear, looked like the biggest domestic crisis Putin has faced since he ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine — which he called a “special military operation” — in February last year. Britain’s Defence Ministry called it “the most significant challenge to the Russian state in recent times.”

In a televised address, Putin said that “excessive ambitions and vested interests have led to treason,” and called the mutiny a “stab in the back.”

“It is a blow to Russia, to our people. And our actions to defend the Fatherland against such a threat will be harsh.”

“All those who deliberately stepped on the path of betrayal, who prepared an armed insurrection, who took the path of blackmail and terrorist methods, will suffer inevitable punishment, will answer both to the law and to our people,” Putin said.

25,000 fighters to ‘restore justice,’ Prigozhin says

Prigozhin had demanded that Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff, whom he has pledged to oust over what he says is their disastrous leadership of the war against Ukraine, come to see him in Rostov, a city near the Ukrainian border that he said he had seized control of.

He had said he had 25,000 fighters who would “restore justice” and had alleged, without providing evidence, that the military had killed a huge number of fighters from his Wagner private militia in an airstrike, something the Defence Ministry denied.

Prigozhin’s Wagner militia spearheaded the capture of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut last month, and he has for months been openly accusing Shoigu and Gerasimov of incompetence and of denying Wagner ammunition and support.

On Friday, he had appeared to cross a new line in the feud, saying that Putin’s stated rationale for invading Ukraine 16 months ago was based on lies concocted by the army’s top brass.

“The war was needed … so that Shoigu could become a marshal … so that he could get a second ‘Hero’ [of Russia] medal,” Prigozhin said in a video clip.

“The war wasn’t needed to demilitarize or denazify Ukraine,” he said, referring to Putin’s justifications for the war.

‘I ask that no one offer resistance….’

In one of many overnight audio messages, he made clear that he was moving against the army.

“Those who destroyed our lads, who destroyed the lives of many tens of thousands of Russian soldiers, will be punished. I ask that no one offer resistance,” he said

“There are 25,000 of us and we are going to figure out why chaos is happening in the country,” he said, promising to destroy any checkpoints or air forces that got in Wagner’s way. He later said his men had been involved in clashes with regular soldiers and had shot down a helicopter.

A tank with a red 'Z' painted on the sign can be seen on a residential street. Four e-scooters are visible on the sidewalk in the foreground.

A Russian security source told Reuters that Wagner fighters had also taken control of military facilities in the city of Voronezh, about 500 kilometres south of Moscow. Reuters could not independently confirm that assertion or many of the details provided by Prigozhin.

Russia’s FSB security opened a criminal case against Prigozhin for armed mutiny and said his statements were “calls for the start of an armed civil conflict on Russian territory.”

It added: “We urge the … fighters not to make irreparable mistakes, to stop any forcible actions against the Russian people, not to carry out the criminal and traitorous orders of Prigozhin, to take measures to detain him.”

‘Knife in the back’

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of Putin, said on Saturday his military forces were ready to help put down the mutiny and to use harsh methods if necessary.

In a statement posted on Telegram, Kadyrov called Prigozhin’s behaviour “a knife in the back” and called on Russian soldiers not to give in to any “provocations.”

He said Chechen units were moving toward the “zones of tension” and would act to “preserve Russia’s units and defend its statehood.”

Putin being briefed ’round the clock’

The state news agency TASS quoted Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov as saying that all of Russia’s main security services were reporting to Putin “round the clock.”

Security was being tightened in Moscow, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on his Telegram channel.

In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden was briefed on the situation, a White House spokesperson said.

Russia preparing for possible armed rebellion from Wagner mercenary group

Russian authorities have called on the head of the infamous Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, for organizing an armed rebellion. There are signs in the street that the government is preparing for armed conflict with military vehicles and roadblocks in the streets.

At about 2 a.m. Moscow time, Prigozhin posted a message on the Telegram app saying his forces were in Rostov and ready to “go all the way” against the top brass and destroy anyone who stood in their way.

At about 5 a.m., the administration of the Voronezh region, on the M-4 motorway between the regional capital Rostov-on-Don and Moscow, said on Telegram that a military convoy was on the highway and urged residents to avoid using it.

Prigozhin denies coup

Footage on channels based in Rostov-on-Don showed armed men in military uniform skirting the regional police headquarters in the city on foot, as well as tanks positioned outside the headquarters of the Southern Military District.

Reuters confirmed the locations shown but could not determine when the footage was shot.

Prigozhin denied that he was trying to stage a military coup.

Soldiers stand carrying weapons and flags.

He said he had led his fighters out of Ukraine to Rostov, where a video posted by a pro-Wagner Telegram channel showed him, seemingly relaxed, conversing with two generals at the headquarters of Russia’s huge Southern Military District.

The video showed him telling the generals: “We have arrived here, we want to receive the chief of the general staff and Shoigu. Unless they come, we’ll be here, we’ll blockade the city of Rostov and head for Moscow.”

Russian local officials said a military convoy was indeed on the main motorway linking the southern part of European Russia with Moscow, and warned residents to avoid it.

Army Lt.-Gen. Vladimir Alekseyev — who was later to appear with Prigozhin in the video from Rostov-on-Don — issued a video appeal asking Prigozhin to reconsider his actions.

“Only the president has the right to appoint the top leadership of the armed forces, and you are trying to encroach on his authority,” he said.

An unverified video on a Telegram channel close to Wagner showed the purported scene of an airstrike against Wagner forces. It showed a forest where small fires were burning and trees appeared to have been broken by force. There appeared to be one body, but no more direct evidence of any attack.

It carried the caption: “A missile attack was launched on the camps of PMC (Private Military Company) Wagner. Many victims. According to eyewitnesses, the strike was delivered from the rear, that is, it was delivered by the military of the Russian Ministry of Defence.”

The Defence Ministry said the allegation was false.

Law enforcement vehicles are seen in front of the Kremlin. 


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