Russia is in major domestic military crisis following the move of Wagner mercenary group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin to declare war on Moscow’s own defense ministry on Friday night, as he claimed that Kremlin officials were responsible for the loss of thousands of his soldiers in the war with Ukraine.
In a video posted on Telegran, Prigozhin said that he has taken control of the southern city of Rostov, and that his troops were moving on to Moscow – where a counter-terrorism regime was reportedly introduced.
Details of the dramatic turn remained unclear as Russian President Vladimir Putin responded with a televised public address, in which he vowed to crush what he called an “armed mutiny.”
The BBC reports that Wagner fighters have taken control of all military facilities in the city of Voronezh, a halfway point between Rostov and the capital.
This is huge: The Wagner Group is now storming the headquarters of the Russian Defense Ministry in Rostov, Russia, which means they are well on their way to Moscow. Not a great day to be Vladimir Putin or a Putin supporter today. A coup in real-time. pic.twitter.com/2rwfpXrgux
— Victor Shi (@Victorshi2020) June 24, 2023
Putin vows to “crush” Prigozhin’s Wagner “armed rebellion”
In a statement issued on Telegram Friday night, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia said that the Investigation Department of the FSB had “legally and reasonably initiated a criminal case against Prigozhin E.V. for organizing an armed rebellion.”
“His actions will be given a proper legal assessment. This crime is punishable by imprisonment for a term of 12 to 20 years,” the statement read.
In a televised public address on Saturday morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for unity and referred to the actions of the Wagner chief as a “betrayal” and “treason.”
“This is a stab in the back of our country and our people,” Putin said, speaking of the threat of a civil war.
Vladimir Putin: Actions that split our unity are, in fact, apostasy from one’s own people, from comrades-in-arms who are now fighting at the front. This is a stab in the back of our country and our people. It was such a blow that was dealt to Russia in 1917, when the country… pic.twitter.com/i0DFsv3Kvc
— Victor vicktop55 (@vicktop55) June 24, 2023
Also on Saturday, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said his forces are ready to help put down Prigozhin’s mutiny, and to use harsh methods if necessary, according to Al Jazeera.
In the meantime, neighboring Estonia strengthened its border security, the country’s Prime Minister, Kaja Kallas, wrote on Twitter.
Ukraine reacts to Wagner rebellion in Russia
Mykhailo Podolyak, senior adviser to Ukrainian Prime Minister Vladimir Zelenskyy, was the only Ukrainian official to have commented on the developments by Saturday noon local time.
Podolyak wrote on Twitter that the next 48 hours will define the new status of Russia.
“Either a full-fledged Civil War, or a negotiated Transit of Power, or a temporary respite before the next phase of the downfall of the Putin regime,” he added. “All potential players are now choosing which side they are on. A deafening “elite” silence is in Russia so far…”
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz were also following the situation in Russia closely, their respective representatives said on Saturday.