Addressing the nation on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to protect the country and its people from an armed uprising called by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Putin said the mutiny represented “a deadly threat to our statehood” and announced “tough measures” in response. “All those who prepared the uprising will inevitably be punished. “The armed forces and other government agencies have received the necessary orders,” Putin said.
He described Prigozhin’s actions, without naming the owner of the private military company Wagner, as “betrayal” and “betrayal”. He urged “those implicated in this crime not to make a fatal and tragic unique mistake, but to make the only right decision – to stop engaging in criminal activity.”
Putin condemned the uprising at a time when Russia was “fighting its toughest battle for its future” with its war in Ukraine. “The entire military, economic and information machinery of the West is directed against us,” Putin said.
“This struggle, in which the fate of our people will be decided, requires the unification of all forces, unity, consolidation and responsibility.” At a time like this, an armed uprising is “a blow to Russia and its people,” said the president.
“Those who planned and organized an armed uprising, who took up arms against their comrades-in-arms, betrayed Russia. And they will be held accountable for it,” Putin said.
This is a recent update. AP’s earlier story follows below.
The Owner of private military company Wagner The man who called for an armed uprising to overthrow Russia’s defense minister confirmed Saturday morning that he and his troops had reached a key Russian city after crossing the border from Ukraine.
The Russian Defense Ministry condemned the actions as a “criminal endeavor” and called on the Wagner fighters to return to their place of deployment. The ministry said it would ensure their safety.
Yeveny Prigozhin posted a video of himself in Rostov-on-Don at the Russian military headquarters monitoring the fighting in Ukraine. He claimed that his forces controlled military installations in the city, including the airfield. Other videos posted on social media showed military vehicles, including tanks, on the streets outside.
Prigozhin said early Saturday that his troops entered Russia from Ukraine and reached Rostov, adding that they did not face any resistance from young conscripts at the checkpoints and that his troops “do not fight children”.
“But we will crush anyone who stands in our way,” he said in a series of angry video and audio footage posted to social media beginning late Friday. “We’ll keep going and we’ll hold out until the end.”
The Russian security services responded to Prigozhin’s announcement of an armed uprising by demanding that he be arrested. In a sign of how seriously the Kremlin took the threat, authorities in Moscow and around the capital declared an “anti-terrorist regime” that allowed increased security and restricted freedoms, and security in Moscow was tightened.
It was not immediately clear how he got into the southern Russian city and how many troops he had with him.
Prigozhin claimed that Wagner camps in Ukraine were hit by rockets, helicopter gunships and artillery fire on orders from the Chief of General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov, after a meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was held in Rostov, at which it was decided to destroy Wagner. He also said his forces shot down a Russian military helicopter that was firing at a civilian convoy, but there was no independent confirmation.
Prigozhin said he has 25,000 troops under his command and will punish Shoigu with an armed uprising, urging the army not to resist: “This is not a military coup, but a march of justice.”
Although the outcome of the confrontation was still unclear, it seemed likely that it would further impede Moscow’s war effort when Kiev’s forces probed Russian defenses in the early stages of a counteroffensive. The dispute, especially if Prigozhin wins, could also affect President Vladimir Putin and his ability to maintain a united front.
Wagner’s forces played a crucial role in the Russian war in Ukraine and managed to capture the city of Bakhmut, where the bloodiest and longest battles took place. But Prigozhin increasingly criticizes the military leadership of Russiaaccused him of incompetence and accused his troops of starving out arms and ammunition.
On Friday, the National Counter-Terrorism Committee, part of the Federal Security Service (FSB), accused Prigozhin of calling for an armed uprising, which could be punished with up to 20 years in prison.
The FSB called on Wagner’s contract soldiers to arrest Prigozhin and refuse to follow his “criminal and treacherous orders”. She described his comments as “a stab in the back of Russian troops” and said they amounted to incitement to armed conflict.
Putin has been informed of the situation and “all necessary measures have been taken,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. On Saturday morning, he added that Putin would address the nation “soon”.
Heavy military trucks and armored vehicles were sighted in several parts of central Moscow early on Saturday, and soldiers with assault rifles were on duty in front of the main building of the Defense Ministry. The area around the presidential administration near Red Square was closed and there were traffic delays.
But despite the increased military presence, downtown bars and restaurants were packed with customers. At a club near the FSB headquarters, people were dancing in the street near the entrance.
Prigozhin, whose dispute with the defense ministry dates back years, has refused to comply with demands that military contractors sign contracts with the ministry before July 1. In a statement late Friday, he said he was willing to find a compromise, but “they have deceitfully betrayed us.”
“Today they launched a rocket attack on our rear camps and a large number of our comrades were killed,” he said. The Ministry of Defense denied an attack on the Wagner camps.
“The evil that embodies the country’s military leadership must be stopped,” he cried.
Colonel-General Sergey Surovikin, the deputy commander of the Russian force group fighting in Ukraine, urged the Wagner troops to stop any move against the army, saying this would play into the hands of the enemies of Russia who are “waiting to wait.” . Aggravation of our domestic political situation.”
Tatiana Stanovaya, a political analyst, predicted that this would mean the end of Prigozhin.
“Once the state has actively engaged there is no turning back,” she tweeted. “The departure of Prigozhin and Wagner is imminent. The only option now is absolute annihilation, the only variable being the level of resistance from the Wagner group. Surovikin was dispatched to persuade them to surrender. A confrontation seems completely pointless.”
Lieutenant General Vladimir Alexeyev, a senior military officer, described Prigozhin’s actions as “madness” that threatened civil war.
“It’s a stab in the back of the country and the President. … Such a provocation could only be staged by enemies of Russia,” he said.
The Defense Ministry said in a statement that Ukraine was concentrating its troops for an attack around Bakhmut to take advantage of “Prigozhin’s provocation”. Russian artillery and fighter jets were said to have fired on Ukrainian forces as they prepared an offensive.
In Washington, the Institute for the Study of War said: “The violent overthrow of Putin loyalists like Shoigu and Gerasimov would irreparably damage the stability of Putin’s supposed power grab.”
Speaking at the White House, National Security Council spokesman Adam Hodge said, “We are monitoring the situation and will consult with allies and partners on these developments.”
In Kiev on Saturday, at least two people were killed and eight injured in a Russian missile attack when falling debris caused a fire on several floors of a 24-story apartment building in a central district, Serhii Popko, the city’s military administration head, posted on Telegram.
He said more than 20 missiles had been detected and destroyed. Video from the crime scene showed a fire in the building’s upper floors and the parking lot littered with ash and debris.