Yevgeny Prigozhin, the commander of the mercenary Wagner Group, claimed on Saturday that his group had taken control of a southern city as part of an effort to topple the military leadership. Following this announcement, Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to put an end to what he called an armed insurrection.
Putin appeared to be facing his worst domestic crisis since he authorised a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of last year, which he described as a “special military operation” despite the abrupt change and numerous unanswered questions.
The conflict started when Prigozhin claimed in a number of recordings that the Russian military had attacked Wagner encampments and killed “a huge number of fighters.” The “march for justice” is being led by his “25,000” soldiers, he continued.
In his speech, Putin referred to the mutiny as a “stab in the back” and claimed that “excessive ambitions and vested interests have led to treason.”
“It is a setback for our nation and for Russia. And we’ll take tough measures to protect the Fatherland from this threat.
According to the New York Times, Putin declared Prigozhin guilty of treason without mentioning his name. He continued by saying that “decisive actions” would be done “to stabilise the situation in Rostov-on-Don.” He acknowledged that the situation in Rostov-on-Don is “difficult,” but said that both military and civilian institutions there are “basically blocked” from operating.
In his five-minute speech, Putin also made historical references, including the 1917 Russian Revolution, which took place as the Russian Empire was engaged in World War I. “I will do everything to defend the country,” he declared.
All those who knowingly chose the route of betrayal, planned an armed uprising, chose the path of extortion and terrorist tactics, Putin continued, “will suffer inevitable punishment, will answer both to the law and to our people.”
Mercenary fighters from the Wagner Group have taken control of all military facilities in the city of Voronezh, around 500 kilometres south of Moscow, according to a Russian security source who spoke to Reuters on Saturday. Earlier in the day, Prigozhin asserted that his forces had taken over the city’s military installations and had gained access to the Russian army headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia. Later, he sent a video to social media in which he demanded to be met there by Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and top general Valery Gerasimov.
Al Jazeera stated that in response to the Wagner Group’s threats, the authorities in Moscow and the neighbourhood had “declared a counterterrorism state of emergency.” According to a security service source quoted by the TASS news agency on Friday night, security has been increased at government buildings, transport hubs and other important areas in the capital since Friday night. The BBC reported that internet access was limited and that military vehicles were seen driving through Moscow’s streets.