‘We’ll head to Moscow’: Rebel mercenaries’ leader claims he controls Rostov inside Russia itself

Rebel Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin says he has taken control of the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don as part of an attempt to oust the military leadership amid what the authorities say is an armed mutiny.

Prigozhin demanded that Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, the 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.

He earlier said he had 25,000 fighters moving towards Moscow to “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 air strike, something the defence ministry denied.

“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 in one of many frenzied audio messages.

“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 aircraft that get in Wagner’s way.

Prigozhin, whose Wagner militia spearheaded the capture of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut last month, has for months been openly accusing Shoigu and Gerasimov of incompetence and of denying Wagner ammunition and support in its battles in Ukraine.

The dramatic turn, with many details unclear, looks like the biggest domestic crisis President Vladimir Putin has faced since he ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine – something he called a “special military operation” – in February last year.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says an “armed mutiny” by the Wagner mercenary forces is treason, warning that anyone who has taken up arms against the Russian military will face “inevitable punishment”.

In emergency TV address, Putin said he would do everything to protect Russia, and that “decisive action” would be taken to stabilise the situation in Rostov-on-Don, a southern city where Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said his forces had taken control of all military installations.

Putin: ‘It’s a stab in the back’

Putin described the actions of mutineers as a “stab in the back”.

“All those who prepared the rebellion will suffer inevitable punishment. The armed forces and other government agencies have received the necessary orders,” he said.

He urged “those who are being dragged into this crime not to make a fatal and tragic, unique mistake, to make the only right choice – to stop participating in criminal acts.”

Russia’s FSB security had earlier opened a criminal case against Prigozhin for armed mutiny, saying his statements were “calls for the start of an armed civil conflict on Russian territory and his actions a stab in the back of Russian servicemen fighting pro-fascist Ukrainian forces”.

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.”

State news agency TASS quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying 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, US President Joe Biden was briefed on the situation, a White House spokesperson said.

Wagner chief: No reason to invade Ukraine

On Friday, Prigozhin had appeared to cross a new line in his increasingly vitriolic feud with the ministry, saying 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 demilitarise or denazify Ukraine,” he said, referring to Putin’s justifications for the war.

Prigozhin on Saturday 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.

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.

Unverified footage posted on social media showed a convoy of assorted military vehicles, including at least one tank and one armoured vehicle on flatbed trucks. It was not clear where they were, or whether the covered trucks in the convoy contained fighters. Some of the vehicles were flying the Russian flag.

Revolt, not ‘a coup’

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

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.”

Army General Sergei Surovikin, the deputy commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, whom Prigozhin has praised in the past, said in a video that “the enemy is just waiting for our internal political situation to deteriorate”.

“Before it is too late … you must submit to the will and order of the people’s president of the Russian Federation. Stop the columns and return them to their permanent bases,” he said.


The post ‘We’ll head to Moscow’: Rebel mercenaries’ leader claims he controls Rostov inside Russia itself appeared first on The New Daily.

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