Russian Mercenary Chief Confirms He and His Troops Reached in Russia
The proprietor of the Wagner private military contractor, who called for an armed uprising to depose Russia’s defense minister, announced on Saturday morning that he and his troops had crossed the border from Ukraine and were now in a significant Russian city.
Yevgeny Prigozhin uploaded a video of himself at the Russian military command center in Rostov-on-Don, where the battle in Ukraine is being supervised. He asserted that his troops were in charge of the city’s military facilities, including the airfield. Tanks could be seen on the streets outside in other social media videos that were uploaded.
Early on Saturday morning, Prigozhin announced that his troops had entered Russia from Ukraine and had arrived in Rostov. He also said there had been no opposition from young conscripts at checkpoints and that his troops “aren’t fighting against children.”
He declared this in one of a string of furious video and audio posts that appeared on social media starting late Friday. “But we will destroy anyone who stands in our way,” he said. “We are making progress and will persevere to the end.”
After Prigozhin declared an armed uprising, the Russian security services demanded his arrest. The threat was taken seriously by the Kremlin, as evidenced by the increased security in Rostov-on-Don and Moscow. How he entered the city in southern Russia and the size of his army were not immediately apparent.
Wagner’s convoys were allegedly being driven alongside regular vehicles when General Valery Gerasimov, the head of the General Staff, allegedly ordered warplanes to strike them. Although there was no independent confirmation, he also claimed that his forces had shot down a Russian military helicopter that had opened fire on a convoy of civilians.
According to him, Gerasimov gave the orders for the rocket, helicopter, and artillery attacks on the Wagner field camps in Ukraine after a meeting with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in Rostov where they decided to eliminate Wagner.
Prigozhin warned the army not to resist, saying, “This is not a military coup, but a march of justice.” He claimed to command 25,000 soldiers and threatened to punish Shoigu through an armed uprising.
While the outcome of the conflict was still uncertain, it appeared likely to further impede Moscow’s war effort at a time when Kyiv’s forces were probing Russian defenses in preparation for a counteroffensive. The conflict may also affect President Vladimir Putin and his capacity to maintain a united front, particularly if Prigozhin were to win.
The Wagner forces were instrumental in helping Russia win its war in Ukraine by taking Bakhmut, the city where the bloodiest and longest battles were fought. But Prigozhin has grown more critical of the Russian military establishment, charging it with incompetence and depriving his troops of ammunition and weapons.
Prigozhin was accused of inciting an armed insurrection on Friday by the National Anti-Terrorism Committee, an arm of the Federal Security Services, or FSB. This offense carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
The FSB urged Wagner’s contract soldiers to detain Prigozhin and refuse to carry out his “criminal and treacherous orders.” It referred to his remarks as a “stab in the back to Russian troops” and claimed they amounted to inciting a war.
Putin was informed of the circumstance, and according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, “all necessary measures were being taken.” He added on Saturday morning that Putin would speak to the country “shortly.”
Early on Saturday, soldiers carrying assault rifles were stationed outside the Defence Ministry’s main building. Heavy military trucks and armored vehicles could be seen in several locations throughout central Moscow. Traffic was backed up as the area around the presidential administration near Red Square was blocked.
However, despite the increased military presence, downtown bars and eateries were crowded with patrons. People were dancing in the street near the entrance to one club near the FSB headquarters.
The mayor of Moscow declared early on Saturday that there were counterterrorism measures in place, including tighter road security and potential bans on large gatherings.
Military contractors were required to sign contracts with the ministry before July 1 to comply with a requirement, but Prigozhin, whose dispute with the Defence Ministry goes back years, refused to do so. He stated late on Friday that he was prepared to reach an agreement, but that “they have treacherously cheated us.”
He said, “Today they launched a rocket attack on our rear camps, and many of our comrades perished.” Attacks on the Wagner camps were denied by the Defence Ministry.
He yelled, “The evil personified by the military leadership of the nation must be stopped.”
The Wagner forces were urged to put an end to any action against the army by Col. Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the deputy commander of the Russian force coalition fighting in Ukraine, who claimed that doing so would help Russia’s adversaries, who are “waiting to see the exacerbation of our domestic political situation.”
Political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya foresaw this as Prigozhin’s demise.
There is no going back now that the state has taken an active role, she tweeted. “Prigozhin and Wagner are about to be fired. The only option left is destruction, with the Wagner group’s level of resistance serving as the lone determinant. They sent for Surovikin to persuade them to give up. The conflict appears to be completely pointless.
A senior military official, Lt. Gen. Vladimir Alexeyev, condemned Prigozhin’s action as “madness” that could spark a civil war.
It is a “stab in the back” to the president and the nation. Only Russia’s adversaries could stage such a provocation, he claimed.
According to a statement from the defense ministry, Ukraine was assembling troops for an assault near Bakhmut to capitalize on “Prigozhin’s provocation.” It claimed that Ukrainian forces were preparing an offensive while being fired upon by Russian artillery and aircraft.
During a press briefing at the White House, Adam Hodge, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said: “We are monitoring the situation and will be consulting with allies and partners on these developments.”