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Russia: Prigozhin Hits Back After Putin Threatens Punishment for Wagner ‘Mutiny'

Russian authorities have called for the arrest of Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin amid claims of mutiny. Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces said they were "watching" the situation unfold.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said Saturday his troops are heading off to support the Kremlin against the armed uprising by the Wagner Group.

“Fighters from the Ministry of Defense and the National Guard of the Chechen Republic have already left for the tense areas. We will do everything to preserve Russia’s unity and protect its statehood,” Kadyrov posted on Telegram.

Earlier on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the nation, where he spoke of an armed “mutiny” and announced that he would punish those who rebel.

“I support every word of Vladimir Putin,” Kadyrov said.

Chechen fighters are currently deployed with the Russian military in the war against Ukraine and, until recently, were fighting alongside Wagner mercenaries.

Fuel depot on fire in Voronezh, UK says Wagner has sights on Moscow

A fuel depot was on fire in Russia’s southern city of Voronezh on Saturday, the local governor announced after Moscow said the army was leading “combat” in the region amid a mutiny from Wagner mercenaries.

Voronezh authorities are “extinguishing a burning fuel depot,” Governor Alexander Gusev said on Telegram. “There are 100 firefighters and more than 30 vehicles at the scene,” he added, saying there were “no victims according to initial data.”

Some media have published a video showing a military helicopter in the area before an explosion.

Earlier on Saturday, Britain said the Wagner Group had crossed from Russian occupied parts of Ukraine to Russia in at least two locations, and had “almost certainly” occupied key security sites in Rostov-on-Don.

“Further Wagner units are moving north through Voronezh Oblast, almost certainly aiming to get to Moscow,” British intelligence said.

“With very limited evidence of fighting between Wagner and Russian security forces, some have likely remained passive, acquiescing to Wagner.”

Sunak urges ‘all parties’ to protect civilians

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called on “all parties” in Russia to protect civilians after the Wagner Group captured territory in Rostov and other regions.

“The most important thing I’d say is for all parties to be responsible and to protect civilians,” Sunak told the BBC in an interview.

“We’re keeping a close eye on the situation and how it’s evolving on the ground as we speak,” he added.

He also said he would speak with allies about the situation later on Saturday.

‘Russia’s weakness is obvious’: Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Saturday that the growing unrest in Russia is a result of its invasion of Ukraine.

“Russia’s weakness is obvious. Full-scale weakness,” he said in statement posted to social media after the Wagner Group captured territory in several Russian regions.

“The longer Russia keeps its troops and mercenaries on our land, the more chaos, pain, and problems it will have for itself later.”

Zelenskyy implied that Putin was unable to stop his troops from “fleeing and betraying when lift resists” in Ukraine.

Putin allies rally in support of Russian president

Some of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies rallied round in support of the Russian president on Saturday in the wake of the threat posed by the Wagner Group.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev spoke to Putin by telephone and described the events in Russia as an internal affair while saying rule of law was necessary to maintain order.

The leader of Russia’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has called for “unity” and voiced support for Putin.

“Today, when our brothers are fighting and dying on the frontlines… any attempt to sow discord within the country is the greatest possible crime that has no justification,” Patriarch Kirill said in a statement. “I support the efforts of the head of the Russian state, aimed at not allowing turmoil in our country.”

Wagner leader hits back at Putin

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has responded to President Vladimir Putin’s “betrayal” comments, suggesting in fact that the mercenary group’s soldiers are Russian “patriots.”

“The president makes a deep mistake when he talks about treason,” Prigozhin said in an audio message.

Prigozhin also said that Wagner forces would not be “turning themselves in and confess at the order of the president, the FSB (security service) or anyone else. Because we don’t want the country to continue to live any longer in corruption, deceit and bureaucracy.”

Earlier on Saturday, Putin said Wagner fighters were traitors who must be punished.

Wagner assault ‘unprecedented’ in Russia

DW International Correspondent Roman Goncharenko said the reports of a Wagner Group mutiny could be a turning point for Russia.

“We’ve never seen anything like this in recent Russian history,” he said.

“Taking control of Rostov-on-Don, or at the least part of Rostov-on-Don where the headquarters of the Russian army is, is an unprecedented move and it shows how weak the Russian military is,” he added.

The Wagner Group has taken on semi-official military responsibilities since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, but in recent months Yevgeny Prigozhin has turned against Putin and blamed Russia’s armed forces for losses on the battlefield.

“It is a gigantic experiment that (Putin) started by invading Ukraine, and now things are developing in a very bad direction for him,” Goncharenko said.

In an address early on Saturday, Putin made comparisons to how World War I led to revolution and civil war inside Russia in 1917.

“Putin is absolutely right to draw comparisons,” Roman Goncharenko said. “This is where Russia is heading now, but we are not there yet.”

Russia fighting for ‘its future,’ says Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has responded to the Wagner Group’s rebellion, telling the nation it was facing its “toughest battle for its future.”

In an address to the country, Putin described Yevgeny Prigozhin’s actions — in calling for an uprising against the Kremlin — an “armed mutiny” and told the rebels they will face “inevitable punishment.”

Putin did admit the situation in Rostov-on-Don was “difficult” following Wagner claims it had seized control of the airport and army headquarters in the city near the Ukrainian border.

“There will be decisive measures taken on stabilizing the situation in Rostov-on-Don,” Putin told the nation.

Poland ‘monitors’ while UK says Russia facing ‘most significant challenge in recent times’

Britain’s defence ministry said in an intelligence update that “the coming hours” may be decisive as “to how this crisis plays out” as Russian security forces face a test of “loyalty” to the Kremlin over the “feud” between Wagner and Moscow’s military.

Meanwhile, on Saturday morning, Poland’s president held “consultations” with the prime minister and defence ministry about “the situation in Russia.”

“The course of events beyond our eastern border is monitored on an ongoing basis,” Andrzej Duda wrote on Twitter.

Russia will ‘guarantee safety’ of Wagner fighters who stop rebelling

The Russian army on Saturday said it would “guarantee the safety” of Wagner mercenaries who stop rebelling against the Russian government and its military.

“We are appealing to the fighters of assault squads of PMC Wagner. You were deceived into (Wagner chief’s Yevgeny) Prigozhin’s criminal venture and participation in an armed rebellion,” the army said in a statement. It called on the fighters to ask for help to return to “places of permanent deployment.”

“We ask you to show reason and get in touch with representatives of Russia’s defence ministry or law enforcement. We guarantee safety for all.”

Moscow declares state of emergency

The city of Moscow the capital’s region has declared a counterterrorism state of emergency against the backdrop of the armed uprising by Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.

“In order to prevent possible terrorist attacks in the city and Moscow region, a regime of counterterrorism operations has been established,” Russia’s National Antiterrorism Committee said on Saturday morning.

Armoured vehicles in front of parliament in Moscow

Armoured vehicles have appeared in the centre of Moscow in the wake of the power struggle between Wagner and the Kremlin.

“Security measures have been increased in Moscow, all important objects, such as organs of state power and objects of transport infrastructure, have been put under heightened guard,” the state news agency TASS reported.

Wagner chief claims he’s seized Rostov army HQ and airport

The head of the Wagner mercenary group says his troops have occupied key military objects in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, as Yevgeny Prigozhin ramps up his challenge to the Kremlin.

“Under our control are military objects of Rostov, including the airport,” Prigozhin said in a video released on Saturday morning.

He also claimed to have seized control of the army’s headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, a city with a population of over 1 million near the border with Ukraine.

Prigozhin’s claims, however, could not be independently verified.

Unverified videos show soldiers in Rostov-on-Don

Following claims by Prigozhin that his Wagner forces had crossed from Ukraine into Russia and were on their way to the city of Rostov-on-Don, numerous videos began to appear on social media showing soldiers and tanks moving around inside the city.

Reuters was able to verify that the footage was of the police headquarters building, but could not say when it was taken.

Local news site 161.ru said that their correspondent has seen tanks and armored vehicles in the center of the city.

Rostov is the headquarters of the Russian Southern Military District, a key hub for Russian forces and close to the Ukrainian border.

The footage could not be verified and it was also not possible to determine whether the forces shown were Russian military or Wagner mercenaries.

Russia: Moscow mayor says ‘anti-terror’ measures in place in capital city

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said they were taking “anti-terrorist” measures to secure the Russian capital.

“In connection with the incoming information in Moscow, anti-terrorist measures aimed at strengthening security are being taken,” Sobyanin said on Telegram.

The feud between the Wagner Group and the Russian defence leadership escalated into a confrontation after the mercenary group called on members to support an armed rebellion against the military leadership.

Prigozhin: Russian helicopter that fired on ‘civilian column’ shot down

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner Group, said in his latest audio message that: “A helicopter just now opened fire at a civilian column. It has been shot down by units of [private military company] Wagner.”

Prigozhin’s short message was not independently confirmed by other sources. It was also unclear what he meant by a civilian column.

If true, fighting between Wagner mercenary forces and Russian military troops would mark a serious escalation in the clash between Prigozhin and the Kremlin.

Russia: Putin briefed on situation ‘around the clock’

Russian President Vladimir Putin is receiving regular updates on the situation, the Kremlin said.

“Security services, law enforcement agencies, namely, the defence ministry, the FSB, the Interior Ministry, the National Guard are reporting to the president constantly, around the clock,” Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Putin, was quoted as saying by Russian media outlets.

Putin has not yet made any comments on Prigozhin’s rant against high-level Russian officials and the progress of the war in Ukraine.

White House: Monitoring situation in Russia

US National Security Council spokesman Adam Hodge said they were “monitoring the situation and will be consulting with allies and partners on these developments.”

Hodge added that US President Joe Biden had been briefed about the fast-moving situation in Russia.

Prigozhin: Ready to ‘go all the way’ as mercenary forces cross from Ukraine into Russia

Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin said his forces had crossed the border from Ukraine into Russia and that they were ready to go “all the way” in their challenge to the Russian military.

The Wagner chief said his forces had crossed the border into the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and added his men would destroy anyone who stood in their way.

Prigozhin’s claims have not been independently verified, nor has there been any video footage of Wagner troops crossing into Russia.

DW analyst: Russian forces may face off against Wagner troops

DW’s Russia analyst Konstantin Eggert said that “it’s a possibility” that Russian troops may end up facing off against Wagner mercenary forces.

Eggert said that the Kremlin has ordered the mobilization of the special police forces as well as the FSB state security agency.

“There will be forces that will, I think, eventually confront the Wagner group if they decide to go into battle,” he said. “But it still remains to be seen.”

Unverified reports on Telegram said that Prigozhin’s Wagner forces had crossed into Russia from Ukraine without any resistance from Russian border guards.

If Russian President Vladimir Putin does not appear on television soon to address the situation, “it will look really strange, it will look like weakness and I think that it will have a lasting effect on Putin’s regime no matter what the outcome of this particular crisis is,” Eggert said. 

Russia: Ukraine taking advantage of spat to ready troops near Bakhmut

The Russian Defence ministry accused Ukrainian troops of taking advantage of the infighting between the Wagner group and the Russian military to prepare its troops for an assault on Bakhmut.

“Taking advantage of Prigozhin’s provocation to disorganize the situation, the Kyiv regime near the Bakhmut front is concentrating units… for offensive actions,” the ministry was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

Russian forces declared control of Bakhmut in May, but Ukrainian forces have made it difficult for Russia to hold on to the city as they shape up a counteroffensive to take back territories.

Russia: Prigozhin could face up to 20 years in prison

The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office said on Telegram that Prigozhin’s actions could see him sentenced to 12 to 20 years behind bars.

The office said Prigozhin was charged under Article 279 of the Russian Criminal Code for organizing an armed insurrection. “His actions will be given a proper legal assessment,” it added.

How has Ukraine reacted?

Ukraine has said it is monitoring the infighting between Prigozhin and the Russian military leadership.

“We are watching,” the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence said.

Russia: Prigozhin’s claims not based in fact

The Russian National Anti-Terrorism Committee has criticized claims by Prigozhin regarding the alleged attack on Wagner forces.

“The allegations spread in the name of Yevgeny Prigozhin have no basis in fact. That is why the FSB has initiated criminal proceedings on the basis of these statements for calling for an armed coup,” the committee said.

Prigozhin, the outspoken leader of the Wagner Group, has feuded publicly with Russia’s defence heads for months, accusing them of battlefield failures in the war in Ukraine.

On Friday, the Wagner chief accused Russia’s military forces of striking and killing his mercenary forces.

Russia’s defence ministry has denied the claim.

Russia: FSB urges Wagner troops to ignore Prigozhin’s orders

The Russian Federal Security Service or the FSB has urged Wagner troops to ignore Prigozhin’s calls for resistance and urged them to detain the Wagner leader.

“Prigozhin’s statements and actions are in fact a call to start an armed civil conflict on the territory of the Russian Federation and a stab in the back to Russian servicemen fighting pro-fascist Ukrainian forces,” the FSB said.

Russian commander urges Wagner forces to obey military leadership

A deputy commander of Russia’s war on Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin, called on Wagner members to not oppose military leadership.

“I urge you to stop,” Surovikin said in a video. “The enemy is waiting for the internal political situation to worsen in our country.”

“Before it is too late, it is necessary and it is needed to obey the will and order of the popularly elected President of the Russian Federation,” Surovikin added.

Putin aware of Prigozhin situation

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been informed of the situation regarding Prigozhin, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.

Peskov said “all necessary measures were being taken” after Prigozhin urged Russians to join him in resistance against Russian military leaders.

Prigozhin was a close friend of Putin and was once known as “Putin’s chef.” Although Prigozhin has been critical of the Russian military and its handling of the war in Ukraine, he has refrained from criticizing Putin by name.

Russia launches criminal probe into Wagner chief

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) launched a criminal probe into Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin on Friday, accusing him of attempting a “mutiny.”

Earlier on Friday, Prigozhin accused the Russian military of attacking his forces in Ukraine.

“We were ready to make concessions to the defence ministry, surrender our weapons,” Prigozhin said in an audio message. “Today, seeing that we have not been broken, they conducted missile strikes at our rear camps. A huge number of our fighters, our comrades died.”

Russia has denied it attacked Prigozhin’s forces. Prigozhin has called on volunteers to join him after the alleged Russian attack.

“This is not a military coup. This is a march for justice,” Prigozhin said.

This article was originally published on DW.